Eight agricultural cooperatives in the three Tohoku prefectures that were hit hardest by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami now plan to repay in full ¥50 billion in bailout funds injected by the government and Norinchukin Bank after the disaster, informed sources said Saturday.
The cooperatives in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures will be able to start the repayment next month thanks to progress in their management reconstruction 4½ years on, the sources said.
Four months after the disaster, the government created a legal framework to enable struggling agricultural and fishery cooperatives in afflicted areas to receive capital injections under the preferred equity investment method without clarifying their management responsibilities and setting earnings targets.
In February-March 2012, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and the Financial Services Agency approved fund injection requests from the most heavily damaged cooperatives while asking them to draw up management plans for four years through fiscal 2015.
If the farm organizations decided to remain recipients of funds from the government and Norinchukin, the central bank for agricultural cooperatives, they should have presented new management plans, the sources pointed out.
Although clear signs of recovery are emerging for agricultural and marine products from Fukushima Prefecture, consumer fears founded on harmful rumors about radiation are proving difficult to banish.
The local fishing and farming industries were brought to their knees by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011. Now, four years on, the number of fish species being caught off the Fukushima coast on a trial basis has steadily increased, and every bag of rice grown in the prefecture in 2014 was checked and has cleared the national standard for radioactive substances. These and other products have been proven safe. Despite this, many retailers and consumers remain reluctant to buy them.
On March 6, ships unloaded a constant stream of boxes of Pacific cod at the Matsukawaura fishing port in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture. Pacific cod is a winter delicacy, and the harvest impressed the fishermen.
At the end of January, Pacific cod was added to the list of species of marine life permitted to be caught in these waters on a trial basis. While the cod was being packed into boxes at this port north of the 20-kilometer no-entry zone around the nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Soma-Futaba Fisheries Cooperative Association checked the fish for radioactive cesium in a nearby shed. All 16 species of fish examined on this day recorded results of “no radiation detected.”
Fishing on a trial basis began in June 2012. Currently, fishermen are able to work in waters off Fukushima Prefecture, except for the area within a 20-kilometer radius around the nuclear plant, and some other areas. Species of fish that have continually recorded radioactive cesium levels well below the government-set threshold of 100 becquerels per kilogram in ongoing monitoring surveys conducted by the prefecture are eligible to be caught on a trial basis.
All other fishing remains prohibited. Initially, three species were declared safe to be caught, and this has since expanded to 58.
In June 2011, three months after the nuclear accident, 50 percent of specimens caught were found to have cesium levels above the safe level. All specimens caught in February this year were within safe levels.
However, the volume of fish from coastal fishing unloaded at ports along the prefecture’s coast in February was about 60 tons, barely 5 percent of that posted in February 2011.
The Tsukiji market in Tokyo was the biggest destination for many products from the prefecture before the nuclear accident. But these days, many brokers at the market steer clear of any goods bearing a Fukushima label.
“Even if a product is of good quality, many consumers will avoid it when they hear it comes from Fukushima,” one broker said.
At the end of February, it was discovered that contaminated rainwater at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant had been leaking into the ocean around the crippled plant.
“We’d been conducting strict checks and confirming that our products were safe, and then this happened,” said a visibly annoyed Hiroyuki Sato, 59, chief of the Soma-Futaba Fisheries Cooperative Association. “Now consumers might become reluctant to buy from us again.”
Rice checks to continue
The Consumer Affairs Agency regularly surveys about 5,000 people in the Tokyo metropolitan area and other locations about this issue. According to a survey conducted in February, 17.4 percent of respondents said they hesitate to purchase food products from Fukushima, a figure down only slightly from the 19.4 percent recorded in the survey conducted in February 2013. These findings underline the fact that consumers’ radiation fears will not be easily changed.
The impact is also evident in the price of agricultural and livestock products. At the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, the retail price for peaches grown in Fukushima Prefecture — the nation’s No. 2 producer of the fruit, according to volume — was ¥358 per kilogram last year, more than 20 percent cheaper than the average price for domestic peaches.
The price for beef from the prefecture was ¥1,685 per kilogram, about ¥300 cheaper than the national average. The value of agricultural products shipped from the prefecture was ¥204.9 billion in 2013, which was still below the ¥233 billion level reached before the nuclear accident.
The prefectural government has conducted exhaustive screenings for radioactive substances since March 2011. Over this period, samples have been taken from about 130,000 food products and tested. In 2012, contamination checks began on every bag of newly harvested rice in the prefecture.
Seventy-one bags were found to have exceeded the government-set safety standards that year. However, countermeasures such as sprinkling potassium in paddies, which prevents rice from absorbing cesium, have proven highly effective. As a result, all of the about 11 million bags of rice produced in the prefecture in 2014 had radiation levels below the government-set standard. This news was warmly welcomed by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, with one official saying, “The safety of all rice harvested in Fukushima Prefecture is guaranteed.”
The prefecture plans to continue testing every bag of rice harvested in 2015. Screening every bag over the past three years has cost about ¥20 billion, but people involved in the industry point out that the price of koshihikari rice grown in the Hamadori region of eastern Fukushima Prefecture in 2014 was more than 20 percent lower than the national average for this brand.
“Wholesalers in other prefectures very much want the checks on every rice bag to continue,” one industry insider said. “At a time when there is a nationwide surplus of rice, we must ensure that rice grown in Fukushima Prefecture is completely safe so that more shops are willing to sell it.”
According to the agriculture ministry, at least 12 nations and territories had suspended imports of marine products, milk, feedstuff and other produce from Fukushima and other prefectures as of March 3
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.
link to original article: http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0001976491
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
The salmon run in northeastern Japan this autumn will likely plummet by 40 percent compared with last year due to damage to hatcheries caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
The Fisheries Research Agency said Sept. 9 the sharp decline in returning salmon to spawn in the Tohoku region will impact the economy of the disaster-stricken region. The price of salmon roe–a delicacy–is bound to rise, sources said.
Millions of salmon fry are released from hatcheries to rivers each spring. The adult fish generally return three and a half years later to the rivers where they were released.
The salmon expected to return this year were released shortly after the disaster.
Many hatcheries located at the mouths of rivers were destroyed, killing the fry.
The agency estimates that the number of salmon returning to the region this fiscal year could drop to 5.3 million, down from last year’s 8.9 million.
In fiscal 2011, the salmon catch was also down by 40 percent.
Salmon account for 30 percent of Iwate Prefecture’s fishery products.
“The situation this year will have a huge impact on the local economy,” said Toyomitsu Horii, an official at the agency’s Tohoku National Research Institute.
Salmon is mainly consumed locally in Tohoku as “aramaki sake” (lightly salted salmon).
A lack of roe and of juvenile fish could lead to decline in the number of salmon over the long run, officials cautioned.
Members of a fisheries cooperative in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, released young salmon into the Kido River on April 15 for the first time since the Great East Japan Earthquake and the ensuing Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant accident. Released were some 10,000 salmon fry hatched in the Natsui River in Iwaki. The Naraha town office intends to decide in mid-May when to allow evacuees to return. The Kido River Fisheries Cooperative hopes the release of salmon that return to their native streams for spawning will pave the way for evacuees to come back.
The Kido is one of the rivers that boast large numbers of returning salmon on Japan’s main island of Honshu. But all fishing weirs and hatcheries were swept away by the tsunami tide that followed the 2011 temblor. Cooperative head Hideo Matsumoto and other members released the young salmon, 3 to 4 cm long, into the river. Many return to their natal rivers four years later after migrating through the oceans such as the Okhotsk and Bering seas as well as the Gulf of Alaska.
The cooperative and town authorities are considering rebuilding hatcheries and resuming the egg collection/hauling business in fall next year in the hope of restarting the release of self-hatched young salmon in the spring of 2016. Naraha Mayor Yukihide Matsumoto, who joined the release, said the town hopes to launch the rebuilding of weirs this year, pledging to support the cooperative in a manner leading to the return of evacuees.