Diet Members' Group Meeting in Hokuryu Town (Hokkaido) [No.2] Agricultural Cooperative Association HONOKA

Friday, September 25, 2020

After lunch, a round-table discussion was held at the "Agricultural Cooperative Association HONOKA" office. Members of the Agricultural Cooperative Association HONOKA gathered for a lively discussion. 

At the office of the agricultural cooperative "Honoka

Greeting from Ms. Tomoko Kami, Member of the House of Councillors

Greetings from Mr. Paper

I am Tomoko Kami, a member of the House of Councilors, and have been a member of the House of Councilors since 2001, serving on the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. I visited the House of Representatives this time together with Mr. Tamura, a member of the House of Representatives, and Mr. Hatoyama, a former member of the House of Representatives.

Although the Cabinet had approved a draft revision of the "Seeds and Seedlings Law" at the Diet, it was continued without discussion due to many requests for explanation of its contents, opposition opinions, and petition signatures.

Various questions have been raised over this bill. The government stated that the reason for submitting the amendment to the Seeds and Seedlings Law was to prevent the reimportation of such Japanese quality varieties from overseas due to the numerous problems that have occurred, including the outflow of Japanese registered varieties such as the Shine Muscat and strawberry varieties to overseas countries.

The content of the proposed revision, which is aimed at preventing the outflow of knowledge overseas, is to prohibit the previously free practice of self-seeding in registered varieties. The question has arisen as to whether the prohibition of self-seeding by farmers would infringe on the rights of farmers to produce their own seeds.

Concerns about the entry of foreign companies, etc., have also arisen among consumers.

Therefore, during our visit, we would like to ask Hokkaido producers how they perceive and think about the proposed legislation.

I would like to hear your opinions on what kind of crops you produce, what efforts you are making regarding seeds, and any concerns, worries, or questions you may have due to this change in the law at the Agricultural Cooperative HONOKA. Thank you in advance.

Greetings from Representative Takaaki Tamura, House of Representatives

Takaaki Tamura

I am Takaaki Tamura, a member of the House of Representatives. I am a proportional representative from Kyushu-Okinawa in the House of Representatives, and I am from Kitakyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture. The town where I live is an industrial city with a population of 180,000, where there is not a single full-time farmer.

This is my third year on the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committee, and the situation surrounding agriculture, forestry and fisheries is changing at a dizzying pace. I recognize that agriculture, food and rural areas are the most important part of Japan.

Laws are changing without the voice of farmers. Since the seed law in major varieties of rice, wheat, and soybeans has been banned, there is a growing trend for each prefecture to establish its own ordinance to produce and supply stable seeds.

The same is true of the fishing and forestry industries. There is an underlying political trend that allows profits to go to large foreign companies. I am aware of the crisis there. I have been saying that we should listen to the voices of farmers before discussing seeds.

I would like to visit Hokkaido and listen to the voices of the people in the production sites who are facing the soil the most and thinking about agricultural products and seeds the most, and I would like to challenge myself in my future activities. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Self-Introduction of Members of the National Diet

Mr. Kyosei Tai (Secretary of Councilor Paper), Mr. Takashi Kawanabe (Secretary of Councilor Tamura), Ms. Kaori Yamaguchi (Secretary of Councilor Tamura), Mr. Kazuya Hatayama (Communist Party), former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Ichiro Oda, Secretary General, Hokkaido Office of the Japanese Communist Party National Diet Members, Mr. Tokuji Hisada, Chairman, Hokkaido Seed Association (visiting professor at Hokkaido University), Mr. Teppei Owusu, NHK Sapporo base broadcasting station The director introduced himself.

Outline of the establishment of the Agricultural Cooperative Association HONOKA, and details of its production: Asao Morishima, Director

Mr. Terashima explains.

The Agricultural Cooperative Association HONOKA was established in 2014 (Heisei 26). The five farmers who wanted to incorporate began working together on rice cultivation two years prior to the establishment of the corporation, hoping that after three years of hard work, they would somehow be able to make it take shape, and they all worked together to make it happen. Now in its sixth year, total annual income exceeds 200 million yen.

It grows sunflowers for sunflower oil, sunflower nuts, etc., paddy rice, soybeans, fall wheat, buckwheat, greenhouse melons (13 100m greenhouses), azuki beans, millet, green beans, etc. The total cultivated area is 1,536 a (300 times the area of the Tokyo Dome).

The investment constituency consists of 9 members, 1 new farmer, 1 employee, and 12 former constituents with their wives as seasonal employees.

Self-introduction of union members

From young union members to elders, as well as their sons, wives, fathers, mothers, etc., they are all family members.

To my surprise, Councilwoman Tomoko Kami and union member's wife, Michiyo Itagaki, were seniors and juniors at Hokusho University!

Michiyo Itagaki (center photo)

informal talk

Paper Rep:Can new farmers tell us where and what they were doing before they started farming for this corporation, and why they farmed here?

▷ Mr. Kanada, a new farmer:I am from Takikawa City and used to do auto maintenance. I heard about Hokuryu Town from a junior colleague and was given the opportunity to work here.

Paper Rep:How do you feel about doing it?

▷ Mr. Kaneda:It's fun!

Question:Can you tell us about the differences and how you feel about working together in a corporation as opposed to when you came in as a family farmer?

▷ Yamada family mother:It is more fun to work together, chatting and working together, than when I was working quietly by myself!
It is easy and light on the body because of the young children and whoever is helping in various parts of the work.

Question:How did your successor son feel about it?

▷ Yamada family son:My biggest concern for the future was that the land of my seniors would become uncultivated. There is a limit to the amount of work one man can do, but two men can do more than twice as much work, in fact sometimes three times as much.

If we are going to protect the land, I think it would be better if we all work together.

Councilor Tamura:Can you tell us about the overall division of farm work, division of labor and work methods?

▷ Shigeyuki Nakayama, Director:There is no division of labor by crop; almost everyone works on all crops. However, in terms of work, there is a person in charge. In melon cultivation, we split up the work under the guidance of Representative Mizutani.

Shigeyuki Nakayama

Question:Can you tell us why you established the corporation?

Honoka, Shigeki Mizutani, Representative Director (Chairman of the Hokuryu Town Agricultural Committee)

Representative Shigeki Mizutani

At the time of the corporation's establishment, the environment surrounding rice cultivation was undergoing severe changes, with a declining population and aging farmers. We had a sense of crisis that if nothing was done, farmers would disappear from the town and the town would collapse together.

With a strong desire to work together as a community to protect farmland and agriculture, we began to experiment with the idea of incorporating the farm on a trial basis, and gradually moved toward incorporation.

At first, we started with the entire community, but as the conversation progressed, people who wanted to do things their own way, people whose management ideas did not fit in, and so on, left one by one.

In recent years, the name "Agricultural Cooperative Association Honoka" in Hokuryu Town has gradually become more recognizable and has managed to settle down.

Honoka is responsible for 40% of the cultivated area in the Bibagyu district of Hokuryu Town. There are two large rice centers in the Biyagyu district, which serve as the core of the district. Individual farmers also harvest rice together with the entire district.

There are no collection facilities in the area, which may be a good thing. All crops are shipped to the agricultural cooperative and stored in cold storage.

A distinctive part of Honoka's management is the participation of women in the management of the corporation. All members are given detailed explanations of financial results (selling prices of agricultural products, production costs, etc.) and other details, which are clearly presented in a list.

The mothers understand the price at which their products are sold and work on them. This leads to an increase in the members' motivation to produce.

List with expenses

Everyone is thinking about how to improve the efficiency of the work, and we are always thinking of new ways to do things and having fun while doing so.

We have a lot of hardships as much as we have fun, but we can manage to overcome even big difficulties if we share them together. We are all working hard together!

A number of photos from a fun-filled union trip

Question:What are your thoughts on the elimination of direct rice payment subsidies?

▷ Representative Mizutani:It's pretty painful and tough. We were able to purchase machinery and other equipment with the direct payment grant. Without this subsidy, I would have had to quit farming without being able to buy machinery.

Paper Rep:We agreed. The farmers said that this grant gave them a break. We have proposed a bill to reinstate it, but it has been tabled.

▷ Representative Mizutani:Since then, rice prices have gone up, but with the 10% consumption tax and commissions, it seems as if we are making money, but we are barely making any difference.

It is really tough in the mid-mountainous areas. There is a lot of snow in this area, and the cost of winter snow removal work and snow-melting agent spraying is very expensive.

Question:Are there any homegrown seeds in HONOKODE?

▷ Representative Mizutani:There is no homegrown seed. All seeds are purchased. When selling seeds grown for food purposes, the law requires that only seeds that have been standardized according to certain national standards can be sold.

In our case, we do not have a self-seeding problem, but we are concerned that the very seeds we are purchasing could lead to foreign companies like Monsanto entering the seed sales business, improving the variety, and monopolizing the seeds.

Representative Mizutani speaks passionately

Members of the congressional delegation investigating the manufacturer of sunflower seeds.

To all of you who are looking into distributors

Hokkaido Seed Association, Tokuji Hisada, Chairman

Mr. Hisada talking about foreign corporate groups

The group of seed foreign companies are seed companies and agrochemical companies, all of which have genetically engineered technology. We are in a situation where we do not know if and when they will be genetically engineered. This is the biggest concern for us.

Consumers want these seed companies to be domestically produced and secure. The only way to do this is to find a company that can sell safe seeds that can be grown in Japan.

Kyoyasai is a native species that has been in Kyoto since ancient times. They are grown with great care and attention. There are strict standards for kyo yasai, and the Prefectural Agricultural Experiment Station backs them up. The seeds cultivated there are distributed to farmers, who grow them with great care.

In Hokkaido, rice and other major crops are well managed. Others, unfortunately, are thinly tended. Sunflowers and vegetables are almost entirely left untouched, and foreign seeds are considered to be widely available.

Seek out seeds that are safe and secure and are produced in Japan.

Youth request: Mr. Tomoki Kaneda

My wife also came from Sapporo, started a new farm and had one child. If we want to have another child, but take a break for more than one year, we will have to repay the loan amount in full. That requirement is a difficult problem.

About the demands of the youth

Paper Councilor

In the case of the Youth Farming Benefit, the number of people using the program increased at first, but because the budget was not increased in terms of financial resources, the system shifted to a form where the hurdles were raised and then reduced. As a result, problems have arisen from all over the place.

The purpose of the system is no longer to support farmers who have families and children and want to move forward, but are not able to continue farming. It is as if a ladder was put in place and then removed later.

Take the various issues seriously.

Tamura, Councilor

At the end of September, there will be a request for estimates from various ministries in the Diet, and I will submit the current story.

A message to everyone (from the document)

Agriculture is an industry of life with blood! (Adapted from materials prepared by Honoka)

Message from Honoka to the youth and all of you

Rice paddies and fields are not food production factories.
Farming is not like making cars or TV sets in a streamlined process.
It is an industry of life in blood, where grandfathers, grandmothers, wives, and children grow food with their own wisdom, bodies, and minds, sometimes fighting against nature while receiving the benefits of sun, water, and soil.
Farmers are building communities. They protect the countryside. They nurture the people there.
Honoka was created to protect and nurture ourselves, the people around us, this nature, and the northern dragon through agriculture.

I sincerely appreciate your wonderful message on "Agriculture is an Industry of Life." Thank you!

Team Bibabushi's work clothes

The "Testament of Goro Kuroita" is prominently displayed on the wall of Honoka's office.

There is nothing here but nature. Nature is enough to feed us every year.
Take it from nature. And live humbly and modestly.

(From the TV drama "From the North" by Goro Kuroita)

事務所の壁に貼付された言葉たち(テレビドラマ「北の国から 」黒板五郎の遺言より)
Words pasted on the wall of the office (from the TV drama "From the North" by Goro Kuroita)

After this, we moved to Sunflower Park Hokuryu Onsen.

Continued in next article.

More Photos

interpoint (interword separation)Click here to see 182 photos from the National Diet members' group meeting in Hokuryu Town (Hokkaido, Japan) >>

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◇ Photography and Editing: Noboru Terauchi Reporting and Writing: Ikuko Terauchi