JA Zenchu (Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives) on April 3
announced its “JA group reform plan on agricultural management and
economic restart.” While it had caused expectations as internal
reform plan from JA itself along with the Abe Cabinet’s strong
decisiveness to create strong agriculture, unfortunately, it only
exposed limitations of reform-ideas from inside.
Looking at the current state of Japanese agriculture centered on JA,
its total products decreased from 8.3 trillion yen in 20 years ago to
4.6 trillion yen, and export of agricultural goods amounts to no more
than 286 billion yen, making a sharp contrast with Netherland, smaller
than Japan in both size and population but producing world’s second
largest 75.5 billion dollars.
Meanwhile, those older than 65 years old, which is retirement age in
ordinary companies, dominate 60% of the working population in
agriculture and ratio of younger generations has marked lower standard.
Size of farmlands decreased from 6.07 million ha in 50 years ago to
4.56 million ha, and farmland per capita scores 1.9 ha which is far
smaller than in U.S. (198 ha) or Australia (3,423 ha).
In order to turn such deteriorated agriculture into growth industry,
it is necessary to promote entry of youth into agriculture and to
integrate farmlands so that fewer professional farmers undertake the
However, in the “reform plan,” although it piles up such big themes
as “expansion of products (training of undertakers),” “vitalization
of communities (specification of JA role),” “maximization of
agricultural incomes (low-cost production by scale-economy),” etc.,
hardly any specific measures have been announced to cope with the
For example, there is no mentioning on the local agricultural
committees overseeing use of farmlands which have been pointed as
stumbling block to concentration of farmlands, or on lifting ban on
corporate ownership of farmlands which will lead to entry of private
companies into agriculture.
After all, all JA intends is to protect the vast number of
small-scale, part-time farmers and to maintain political influences
through its ballot machines. It seems that JA cannot get way from its
self-spelling mission of maintaining agriculture as protected industry
instead of turning it into growth industry.
On the other hand, farmers cannot live without having contacts with
JA in many ways. It is because they have difficulties receiving
subsidies without JA, or they cannot avoid JA in raising funds,
materials and fertilizers as JA controls the monetary and distribution
channels (Honma Masayoshi, Nogyo Mondai (Problems in Agriculture),
One of the frameworks enabling such structural problems is the
privileged status of JA which is authorized to manage monetary
business (credit, mutual aid) and economic business (procurement,
distribution, etc.) concurrently. If JA cannot reform itself in order
to transform Japanese agriculture into growth industry, there is
little significance in granting such privileged status to JA any more.
It is time to reconsider such privileged status of JA.