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Path to Restoration / Tohoku farmers, fishermen face uphill road to recovery, japan news (yomiuri), 3/3/2015

At 7 a.m. in the fish market in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, fewer than 10 brokers could be seen waiting for the start of the day’s trade. The opening buzzer was heard, but they all left as no fish had been landed.

Devastated by the tsunami that followed the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the town suffered serious damage to its main industry — the fisheries business.

The Otsuchi fishing port was also severely damaged, with the ground level of its wharf having sunk due to the disaster. Repair work at the port was completed last autumn, and fishermen who lost their boats were given new ones.

However, fish catches at the market have yet to see a recovery. The number of fishermen operating in the area declined, in part because some of them lost their lives in the disaster.

But the main reason is that many fishermen who returned to the industry after the disaster now take their catch to larger ports.

“As there’re only a few brokers in Otsuchi, bid prices don’t rise in auctions,” said a 52-year-old local fisherman. He drives for an hour to take his catch to Miyako Port in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture.

As of the end of February, the total volume of catch traded in the Otsuchi fish market in fiscal 2014 was 1,575 tons — equivalent to 40 percent of the volume from fiscal 2010.

With poor hauls attracting fewer brokers for the auction, fish prices are declining further, creating a vicious circle.

In October, to increase fish hauls at the market, the Otsuchi municipal government began subsidizing fuel expenses for fishing boats delivering a catch worth more than ¥500,000.

By the end of last year, there had been adequate restoration at 93 percent of the ports in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures for fish to be landed, while the number of fishing boats back at sea reached 85 percent of those in operation before the disaster.

With the recovery under way for the operation of ports and boats, next on the agenda is how to effectively make use of the facilities.

The local pelagic fisheries cooperative association in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, began a group fishing system in 2012 to reduce costs by fishing collaboratively.

Under the system, a group of boats fish jointly for shark and tuna in nearby waters. However, due to the declining price for shark meat and rising fuel costs, the association remains in the red.

The annual deficit per boat totals ¥30 million to ¥40 million. The government covers 90 percent of the loss, but that will end in April.

To achieve further streamlining, the association has stepped up its cooperation with seafood processing firms to develop products such as shark meat nuggets.

Fisheries cooperative associations in disaster-hit areas have been grappling to find a way out of the situation, but, in reality, they have yet to fully identify a future vision and a path to their revitalization. They are approaching a crucial stage for survival.

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Across three prefectures, where a total of 20,000 hectares of agricultural land was damaged by the disaster, about 70 percent of the farmland had been restored by the end of last year and is now ready for the next step.

Following a fall in the rice price, subsidies for farming households that agree to a policy of reducing acreage for rice cultivation have also been cut, making the environment for farmers even more severe.

Under such circumstances, making extra efforts to streamline is unavoidable.

One new strategy is to expand the usable size of farmland by combining plots on existing land.

Last spring, a branch of the farmland intermediate management organization was established in each prefecture.

The organization mediates in the borrowing and lending of farmland to promote and intensify land use.

Among the three prefectures, only Iwate Prefecture is expected to exceed a goal of 2,000 hectares in total to be lent in fiscal 2014.

In Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, the total land area to be lent via the organization is expected to meet only half of the goal

Farmland unproductive 3 years on, yomiuri shinbun, 3/1/14

With the third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake approaching, numbers do not match reality in terms of progress on reconstruction, adding to the woes of people affected.

As of late last year, official statistics released by the Reconstruction Agency and other government bodies showed significant progress especially on “town rebuilding” efforts, such as the disposal of debris and reconstructing medical institutions and schools, over the past year. In many areas where collective relocation had been in the planning stages last year, 87 percent of construction has begun on the planned projects, while 91 percent of debris disposal has been completed.

In the fishery sector, which was hit hard by the 2011 disaster, the region’s fish haul has recovered to 70 percent of predisaster levels. Sixty-three percent of farmland damaged by tsunami is said to have been restored.

Despite these figures, local people in the farming sector appear glum.

“Farmland that was filled with debris appears to have been restored over the past year, but…” Yukiyoshi Aizawa, a 63-year-old farmer, said of a plot of land in the district of Rokugo in eastern Sendai.

In fiscal 2012, the central government launched farmland restoration work in the district about 1.5 kilometers from the sea. In addition to debris disposal, work to remove salt by repeatedly pouring freshwater onto the farmland was carried out. Such efforts are supposed to help farmland return to normal.

However, soybeans Aizawa planted in June grew to 20 centimeters before the leaves turned yellow and the plants died. He planted soybeans again in July, with the same result.

In cooperation with other farmers, Aizawa planted soybeans in a nearby 45-hectare field, but they were unable to harvest any soybeans in a 30-hectare area. The concentration of salt in the soil of the farmland might have remained too high.

The percentage of farmland restored, 63 percent, has been calculated on areas of land returned to farmers. The figure does not show whether farmers were able to harvest any produce.

“We don’t have statistics on that,” an official of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said.

Similar complaints have also been heard from farmers in Iwate Prefecture.

“After the disaster, we’ve seen seawater flowing back to five kilometers in the upper stream of some rivers due to land subsidence. Even after restoration work is done, people have been unable to harvest crops on some farmland because of the lack of freshwater,” an official of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives in Ofunato said.

Double-edged sword

The job offers-to-seekers ratios of January in three disaster-stricken prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima were higher than the national average of 1.04, meaning there were 104 job offers for every 100 job seekers.

The ratios were 1.09 in Iwate Prefecture and 1.31 in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

By prefecture, the ratio of Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures ranked seventh and that of Iwate 17th among the nation’s 47 prefectures.

According to the Miyagi Labor Bureau, the special procurement boom based on reconstruction projects favorably affected the prefecture’s ratio. In addition, emergency employment measures were conducted by the central government to create more than 20,000 jobs only in Miyagi Prefecture in fiscal 2013.

Consequently, the number of job seekers, which is the denominator in calculating the ratio, fell by 20 percent to 44,000 from the February 2011 figure, just before the March 11, 2011, disaster.

These factors boosted the job-offers-to-seekers ratio in the prefecture, the bureau said.

Similar job tendency is also seen in Iwate and Fukushima prefectures.

The figures show the unemployment problem seems to have been resolved, but new problems have also arisen—as the government’s employment measures had job seekers turning away from fisheries and other local industries.

“No matter how hard we recruit employees through Hello Work, we can’t get a sufficient number of people,” said Tadatoshi Oshima, 65, president of a marine products processing company in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.

The firm’s new plant, which is now under construction in the city, will start operation in September. It formerly employed about 100 people, but the number decreased by half after the disaster, and it remains at that level.

No more than one person in a month receives a job interview for the firm through the Hello Work public job placement offices. It remains uncertain when the company can solve its labor shortage, he said.

In Kesennuma, construction workers are now paid about ¥10,000 a day, and those who get a job via the government’s emergency employment program—such as patrolling temporary housing units—receive about ¥8,000 a day.

The daily wages are attractive for job seekers while the fishery processing firm pays about ¥6,000, observers said.

The Kesennuma Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that while local companies are beginning to be restored, the government’s emergency employment measures have begun to choke off the local key industries.

Minami-Soma OKs rice planting for 1st time in 4 years, asahi, 12/14/13

MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture–The rice fields have lain fallow in this northern coastal city since tsunami deluged the area in 2011. But now, for the first time since then, farmers will start planting rice for harvest on about 3,200 hectares of paddies.

A general meeting of a council consisting of city officials and an agricultural association decided Dec. 13 to allow farmers to plant anew.

The farmers voluntarily refrained from growing rice after the onset of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Although the paddies to be replanted are located outside the evacuation zone, the central government continues to prohibit the cultivation of rice on about 5,300 hectares of the fields within the evacuation zone. It is expected to decide on an extent of the restriction for 2014 in January at the earliest.

Farmers planted rice on about 123 hectares of paddies in Minami-Soma on an experimental basis earlier this year.

But partly due to a delay in decontamination work at the paddies, radioactive cesium exceeding the government’s safety limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram was detected in some of the crops from those fields.

At the Dec. 13 meeting, one farmer said that they should wait until safety is confirmed before going ahead with replanting.

“(The council) should hold a thorough investigation to determine why radioactive cesium is exceeding the safety limit,” the farmer said.

However, with the city pledging to fully support the restart of rice growing, the Dec. 13 meeting decided on the resumption of rice planting by majority vote.

600 social entrepreneurs in Tohoku are now on a web site – Assistance project for start-ups by the Cabinet Office, rising tohoku, 8/21/2013

In the last fiscal year of 2012, Cabinet Office of Japanese Government implemented a project of “Reconstruction assistance of regional society employment creation” and chose 600 entrepreneurs, whose businesses and profiles are now publicized on the web. The government office, under the project, subsidized an amount up to 3 million yen each of the entrepreneurial enterprise and individual that started social business in the disaster district of Tohoku. As of August 20th, 569 businesses have been uploaded to the site where more will sequentially follow.

At the web site( named as “The team of 600 entrepreneurs”, a viewer can search for a business by region or category of business. Distribution of numbers of businesses (see the right side chart below) by geographical region is 39%, 29% and 32% for prefectures of Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate respectively. By category (the left side of the charts below), community formation becomes the most common theme in the business, followed by medical care, welfare and health, town planning, shopping mall promotion , agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry.

The web site is run by Council of Supporting Entrepreneurs for Recovery. Mr. Kazuma Watanabe of the council says, “It is amazingly epoch-making for Tohoku to have this much of new business in quite a short period of time. Taking this opportunity, we would like to root new cultures of Act-To-Challenge in Tohoku.” Mentioning women’s activities for the new businesses, he continues, “Women have been keeping home and region peaceful since a long time ago. They are very patient with strong mind of wick to run their businesses.” The whole picture is unavailable but many of the entrepreneurs’ photographs show female.

The governmental project finished in March this year. However, it is important that the entrepreneurial business continue to create employments in each region of Tohoku.

Council of Supporting Entrepreneurs for Recovery plans further to expand its activities to assist entrepreneurs in fund-raising, know-how and information distribution, and networking among the entrepreneurs.

Disaster reconstruction subsidies welcomed, yomiuri shimbun, 5/27/12

With the second round of reconstruction subsidies approved–at 1-1/2 times more than the amount requested–local governments hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami need to prove their ability to carry out recovery plans.

The approval of the second round of subsidies, which the government announced Friday, marked a drastic change for the Reconstruction Agency, which drew the ire of disaster-hit governments for its very strict evaluation of the first round of fund requests in March. Local government officials sarcastically referred to the agency as the “evaluation agency” at the time.

“I’d like to retract what I said before. I wouldn’t call it the ‘evaluation agency’ anymore,” said the beaming governor of Miyagi Prefecture, Yoshihiro Murai, after learning the prefecture was given more money than it requested.

In the first round of subsidies in March, the prefecture received only 58 percent of the funds requested. This time, the prefecture was given 180 percent of the amount requested.

“It’s more than perfect. It motivates local governments undertaking reconstruction projects,” said Murai.

The reason for the change was the agency’s decision to approve funds for projects, including community relocation and public housing construction, through next fiscal year.

Another reason was that the agency approved 20 percent of the funds for the projects including relocation and rezoning to be given immediately to realize “soft” plans to revitalize urban areas, such as sending specialists to the areas. This was in response to the request of the disaster-hit local governments, which wanted to make better use of the subsidies.

One project–typical of those in the region–received 11.83 billion yen in the second round of subsidies. Watari, Miyagi Prefecture, will rebuild facilities for growing and processing strawberries, something the town was famous for as one of the major producers in the Tohoku region. The project aims to build three facilities totaling 70 hectares, and it has attracted 122 farmers looking to participate.

The tsunami, which followed the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, devastated the strawberry farms in the area, reducing the growing area to less than 20 hectares from 56 hectares. If the production facilities are built, the growing area will rebound to 48 hectares.

“If we can plant seedlings by October 10, we can harvest strawberries this year,” Katsuhiko Hirama, who lost his house and strawberry field in the disaster, said.

Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, which calls itself the “city of rugby” as the renowned rugby team, the Kamaishi Seawaves–formerly Shinnittetsu (Nippon Steel Corp.) Kamaishi–is based in the city, will receive subsidies to cover the design cost for a project to construct a rugby field and related facilities. The city is planning a bid to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

With the second round of subsidies approved, reconstruction progress will depend on each local government’s efforts.

The funds approved for Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, total 14.8 billion yen for 63 districts that are planning relocation. However, there are some districts in which the residents have not reached a decision on whether to relocate.

“What’s important now is to build a consensus among people quickly and move to a safer place,” Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama said.


104 million yen for 4 Iitate farms

Reconstruction subsidies totaling about 104 million yen will be provided to Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, to help four flower farms resume production at new locations in the city of Fukushima.

The entire village of Iitate was designated as an expanded evacuation zone after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis.

This is the first time subsidies have been approved for people to resume farming after evacuating due to the nuclear disaster, according to the agency.

Production of flowers, including Eustoma, was a major industry in the village, with sales of more than 100 million yen a year.

However, part of the village is expected to be designated as a “zone where residency is prohibited for an extended period,” where residents cannot return for at least five years. The accumulated radiation exposure in this zone exceeds 50 millisieverts per year.

As the flower farmers will unlikely be able to return to their village anytime soon, Iitate applied for the subsidies after receiving a request from the farmers.

“If farming continues to be suspended for an extended period of time, it will become difficult to pass down relevant techniques to the next generation and agriculture in the village will eventually fade away,” an official of the village said.

The people on all four farms are aged 50 or older and well experienced in flower production. They will lease private land in Fukushima to begin cultivating new crops.

The subsidies will mainly be used to cover the cost of facilities, including vinyl greenhouses, while costs for leasing the land will be paid by individual farms. Building for the greenhouses is set to start as early as mid-June.


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