Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Fighting TPP with 'reverence' for farming and 'expulsion' of consumer culture

Under a cloudy sky, Akira Sudo is seen amidst his rice paddies in Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, on Aug. 3. (Mainichi)
Under a cloudy sky, Akira Sudo is seen amidst his rice paddies in Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, on Aug. 3. (Mainichi)
A great article by Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer - Mainichi Daily News

I can't seem to make sense of the ongoing debate on Japan's possible participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade zone (TPP). I think it's the pro-TPP attitude of "let's open Japan up to the world" that rubs me the wrong way. I never noticed us being under a policy of "sakoku" -- or isolation -- like the one that had been implemented by the Tokugawa shogunate for some 200 years until U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry arrived with his black ships in 1853. It has been unnatural the way the TPP issue has been framed for the public and the way the debates have been carried out, all in an effort to convince the public of the righteousness of TPP participation.

That the Japanese government feels that it has to go along with the U.S. pursuit of open markets because it is indebted to the U.S. for national security reasons is understandable. However, neither the Noda administration nor the media have any fundamental ideas on how to strike the right balance between liberalization and regulation, and on the direction in which the country should be taken. At the root is a sense that we are merely drifting about.

Farmer and poet Kanji Hoshi, 76, who has been engaged in organic farming for 38 years in the Yamagata Prefecture town of Takahata, is adamantly opposed to Japan's TPP participation. While it is standard for the media to showcase arguments for and against TPP, here, I'll only talk about Hoshi because there's no sense of drifting in his argument.

Hoshi started farming in 1954, at the age of 19. Not long afterward came the 1961 enactment of the Agricultural Basic Law, whose objective was to increase productivity and income. Agriculture grew more and more mechanized, and along with the heavy use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and herbicides, led to greater harvests. At the same time, however, food safety began to crumble and the problem of environmental pollution grew serious.

In 1973, the Organic Agriculture Association was established in Takahata, with Hoshi at its helm. In "Fukugo osen" (Complex contamination), a true-to-life novel that was serialized in a newspaper between 1974 and 1975 and caused a great sensation, author Sawako Ariyoshi included an anecdote about biting into one of Hoshi's chemical-free apples.

It goes without saying that organic, chemical-free farming is hard. Hoshi was ridiculed for "trying to go back to the Edo period," but he continued to explore new methods and repeatedly made mistakes. It was through his activism against the spraying of pesticides from helicopters that he found like-minded comrades. Eventually, in an act of revenge, Hoshi harvested sparking, tortoiseshell-like brown rice, for which he was awarded the gold medal in a nationwide contest.

Through long-term efforts, loaches, fireflies, river snails and meadowhawk dragonflies returned to the land. Organic agriculture was now well established in Takahata. Hoshi is part of a network comprising over 100 consumer groups and rice sellers, and has had opportunities to exchange ideas with university instructors and students pursuing environment, life and agriculture.

Hoshi is the author of an essay called "Sonno joi no shiso: han TPP no chiiki ron" (The philosophy of revere agriculture, expel the barbarians: anti-TPP localism), published in May 2011 in the book, "Takahata-gaku" (Takahataology). In it, he writes: "I would like the philosophy of revering agriculture and expelling the barbarians to be the stronghold against the black ships of TPP," Hoshi writes. "We need to give primary importance to agriculture for its production of food for life, and to justly appreciate its function of protecting the environment. If we destroy our beautiful homeland, we will not be able to face our descendents. 'Expel the barbarians' refers to the elimination of our disposable consumer civilization. We need to possess a set of values necessary to live simply and spiritually rich in a mature society, and let us attempt self realization."
Holding placards reading, "Protect Japanese land and food," farmers from tsunami-hit Miyagi Prefecture shout slogans against the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade zone (TPP) on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
In this essay, Hoshi categorically states that TPP participation will devastate Japanese agriculture. Our dinner tables will be filled with imported products whose manufacturers and processors we don't know, sacrificing food safety, and rural landscapes will be destroyed, Hoshi says, and warns that local communities themselves will collapse.
Pro-TPP advocates say that domestic agriculture must be revived in a way that it will be able to withstand market liberalization. And by "revival," what they mean is boost "profitable agriculture" aimed for since the Agricultural Basic Law was implemented to a "more profitable agriculture." They argue that agriculture must also contribute to economic growth. Hoshi, however, sees the value in agriculture that protects something that is different from economic growth.
Both domestically and internationally, financial, economic and social shockwaves are expected to become increasingly intense and contradictions are bound to balloon. We may well reach a time when no amount of money can buy us food. Does the light of the 21st century side with economic growth and money-making? Or does it side with Hoshi's hands-on practice and knowledge? This is the question that needs to be asked. 

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