Unlike the country’s famed automotive or appliances industry, agriculture in Japan remains protected from global competition thanks to a maze of trade barriers, including a 778% custom duty on imported rice. However, progresses on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU may spell the end of farming in Japan as we know it. With a rapidly ageing population and a lack of economies of scales due to the small size of the mostly family-owned farming plots, the Japanese agricultural sector needs to reinvigorate itself if it is to stand a free-market shock in the coming years. This is where smart farming comes into play.
Take greenhouse farming for example: fruit growers in Japan increasingly integrate ICTs to control for humidity and temperature levels in greenhouses, while optimizing water spraying frequencies. Japanese fruits and vegetables tend to sell high on Asian markets, where the country is reputed for the quality, healthfulness and sophistication of its food. Smart farming could thus be a bonanza for a hidebound Japanese agricultural sector, whose contribution to the national income has shrunk by more than a quarter since it reached its peak in the 1980s. In 2012, agriculture only accounted for 1.02% of Japan’s GDP.
Yet the irruption of educated, ICT-savvy entrepreneurs in farming may usher in the revolution that the country needs to compete on global food and agricultural commodity markets. While automated rice planters have played a key role in maintaining old farmers and their urban offspring in the business, the game-changer comes from data-literate businessmen investing in farming. By leasing land and mainstreaming data-informed farming techniques and automation in century-old traditions, tech corporations allow Japanese farmers to leap into modernity. The transformation is also supported by the government of Shinzo Abe: the Abenomics include measures aimed at relaxing limits on corporate farm ownership and easing the merging of small farm holdings into larger ones.
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