by Yosuke Ota by Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (JA-ZENCHU)
Climate change has affected agriculture in Japan: natural disasters such as heavy rain and typhoons caused by high temperatures bring serious losses to farmland, global warming damages rice plants, abnormal fruit coloration and a high incidence of pests and diseases have been observed. Rice, a typical local cultivation, often does not mature properly presenting immature white grains. This is due to the average daily temperature exceeding 27 degrees during the ripening period. In addition, areas suitable for rice and fruit cultivation gradually shift northwards.
All these factors have contributed to the storks’ extinction in Japan. Moreover, the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, the reformation of wet paddy fields into well-drained paddy fields, the building of concrete river embankments, and other circumstances caused the disappearance of many creatures that were sources of food for storks. People wished fervently to see the storks flying in their skies again.
Therefore, a series of initiatives to return these storks to nature began, focusing on efforts to preserve their natural habitats. For example, in order to nurture an environment in which living beings can flourish, paddy fields are flooded in the winter (winter flooding), organic fertilizer is used right from the seedling stage, pesticides are either completely eliminated or used in smaller amounts (and only those that are not toxic to fish) to practice safe cultivation of crops. Specifically, wetlands and biotopes have been created to serve as hunting grounds for storks even during the dry season, when there is no water in the rice fields; rice fields that have been abandoned are being converted into hunting grounds for storks; organic farming without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilisers is spreading among rice and vegetable producers in the region in an attempt to promote coexistence between man and nature. Based on a set of specific standards, JA Tajima has worked to disseminate farming methods that can help feed storks. In order for storks to become part of the natural ecosystem throughout Japan, we must create an environment conducive to biodiversity and increase the number of people and regions supporting such efforts. To this end, JA Tajima will promote an ecosystem-building style of agriculture, in which safe crops are grown with a low impact on the environment.
In May 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) launched the strategy “MeaDRI” to tackle climate change and to transform into sustainable food system. By 2050, MAFF aims to achieve
- Zero CO2 emission from fossil fuel combustion in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries.
- 50% reduction in risk-weighted use of chemical pesticides by dissemination of the Integrated Pest Management and newly developed alternatives.
- 30% reduction in chemical fertilizer use.
- Increase in organic farming to 1 million of hectares (equivalent to 25% of farmland).
- At least 30% enhancement in productivity of food manufacturers (by 2030).
Sustainable sourcing for import materials (by2030).
Main results of the best practice are:
- Improving resilience of farmers and sustainable soil health and water resources.
- Preservation of biodiversity and environment in rural areas.
- Increase added value of rice products and farmer income.
Recognition of the multi-role and contribution of agricultural cooperatives.
JA-ZENCHU´s story embodies a holistic approach in the process of adaptation and mitigation to climate change impacts in the food system. Intervening specific degraded agroecosystems through nature-based solutions, contributes to regenerate the broken interactions among the different organisms and elements that compound it, in this case the natural habitat of storks. This means that with the purpose of ¨return the storks to nature¨ by harnessing abandoned rice fields to make artificial nesting towers, wetland, biotopes coupled with organic farming, different positive effects are triggered across the agroecosystem. In the food security outcome, the story around storks added value to rice products, benefiting farmers’ income. Likewise, introduction of organic agriculture has the potential to preserve the health of storks, their preys and humans, as well as the biodiversity of soil and water —closely related to crop yield and carbon stocks— therefore, enhancing biophysical resilience/adaptive capacity. Indirectly, may help to reduce carbon footprint from manufacturing, transportation, application and disposal of conventional fertilizers and pesticides. Cooperation is an adaptive capacity that enabled farmers associations, local residents, NPOs, universities, and other organizations to joint efforts to restore this natural habitat and boost sustainable agriculture. Aligning this type of stories with MeaDRI targets may imply new areas of opportunity for enhancing cooperation at the local level and contributing to inform national adaptation and mitigation targets outlined in Japan’s Nationally Determined Contributions and National Plan for Adaptation to the Impacts of Climate Change.
*This is done in the framework of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) approach. Climate-smartness in agriculture means understanding impacts of climate change and variability along with the agricultural activity, which includes the planning of what crop to plant, when to plant, what variety to plant and what type of management practices are needed to reduce the impact on the environment (e.g. emissions reduction), maintain or increase productivity (e.g. yields) while increasing resilience and improving livelihoods.