Organic Agriculture in Japan
By Natsuko Iino Kumasawa

Organic agriculture is growing in the world. Over the past 20 years, the global growth rate is over 15%. However, in Japan, organic agriculture grows very slowly.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry (MAFF), the rate of organic food is only 0.17%. The most popular item is green tea, with a market share of 1.68%. The amount of domestic organic food is low. Domestic organic produce is 48,596 ton, while imported organic produce is 1,295,266 ton annually. This means that domestic organic produce only has 3.6% of the market. Domestic organic processed food is 187,455 ton, while imported organic processed food is 67,777 ton. However, most ingredients of domestic organic processed food are imported.

The JAS mark is becoming an increasingly familiar sight in Japan's supermarkets and restaurants

Why is organic agriculture not developing well in Japan? There are several reasons. In Europe, policies for the enhancement of organic agriculture are well developed. In Japan, policies had not developed well, until December 2006, when finally the Law on Promotion of Organic Agriculture was enacted. The enhancement of organic agriculture has just started recently and it is not enough.

Consumers in Europe and Japan are different, too. In Europe, consumers try to buy organic food produced by their neighbors to protect the natural environment. They don’t care so much about the size or the shape of the produce. In Japan, consumers care about the safety of the products, and buy organic food only when the quality of the vegetables is excellent. According to a 2007 survey of consumer attitudes by MAFF, 87.8% among people who buy organic food said they buy organic food because organic foods are safe, while only 28.8% said they buy organic food because they can “contribute to environmental protection.”

The survey also showed that 72.9% said if the labels are trustworthy they will buy organic foods. 70.3% said that if they can buy organic food from neighbors or in convenient places, they will buy organic foods.

From this survey, we can conclude that Japan needs to enhance its certification system, and diversify the marketing of organic foods, such as farmers market.

In many countries, organic foods are selling very well at farmers markets. Consumers can buy organic food directly from farmers, and consumers feel they can trust the farmers. Consumers can buy fresh foods in their neighborhood when organic foods are sold at farmers market. Since farmers markets are becoming popular in Japan, it would be good if organic foods are increasingly sold at farmers markets.

Read more:

Japan for Sustainability: Government Initiatives to Support a Sustainable Agricultural Industry in Japan
IFOAM: The Voice of Katsu Murayama, Japan
Rodale Institute: Japanese consumers hungry for more organic food