In May 2021, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) launched the Green Food System Strategy (also called the Strategy for Sustainable Food Systems, MeaDRI) which outlines the government’s sustainability-focused goals and strategies related to food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries in Japan. It is the first sustainability focused strategy by MAFF, following on the heels of the development of the Agricultural Innovation Agenda by the US and the Farm to Fork Strategy by the EU.

The organic corner in a typical Tokyo supermarket is a very small share of the shelf space. Will the Green Food System Strategy allow organic products an opportunity to expand in Japan?

Why a Green Food System Strategy?

In recent years, the challenges facing Japan’s food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries has become even more acute. As Japan’s population ages, the number of farmers and fishermen is shrinking. Global warming has increased the frequency of natural disasters and changing temperatures are impacting the growing seasons and fishing patterns, making it difficult to maintain stable agricultural production.

These challenges are not unique to Japan. There is worldwide urgency to meet the SDGs and address environmental threats. Both the EU and the US have released policy agendas to address sustainability in agriculture and MAFF too saw the need for Japan needs to improve both productivity and sustainability in the field of food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries through a range of potential technological innovation from carbon sequestration and energy saving measures to precision farming, robotics, new plant breeding and application of AI to various functions throughout the distribution chain.

Increasing organic farmland is a key goal of the Strategy

Among the numerous goals of the Strategy, one goal in particular caught the attention of many in the food and agriculture industry: to increase organic farmland to about 25% of the total by 2050.

As of 2020, only 0.5% of all farmland in Japan was organic. The Strategy aims increase this to by 50-fold in 30 years. This emphasis on organic farmland is in part driven by issues of sustainability and the SDGs, but there is another important factor. The Japanese government has set a target of 2 trillion yen in exports of agricultural, forestry, and fishery products per year by 2025 and 5 trillion yen by 2030. In 2021 exports were 1.2 trillion yen. To achieve these goals, it will be necessary to produce more organic agricultural products to meet the increasing demand for organic products in overseas markets.

Is it really possible to increase organic farmland to 25% Japan’s farmland?

There are a number of reasons why organic farming has not taken off in Japan. One practical reason is that Japan’s temperate and extremely humid climate results in many weeds and insects. Profitable organic farming under these climate conditions is very difficult.

To realize this ambitious goal, MAFF is planning to subsidize the development of weeding robots, soil diagnostic systems that utilize AI, and low-cost organic fertilizer production technology. MAFF is also considering tax incentives for food manufacturers and logistics companies that handle organic produce.

However, while MAFF has announced its target of 25% organic farmland by 2050 and has discussed several possible actions it can take, the Green Food Strategy still has not provided any annual numerical targets or specific action plans to achieve this goal by 2050. For this reason, some experts and farmers have questioned the feasibility of the organic farmland goal.

In the coming months we will be interested to keep tabs on the discussion and implementation of the Green Food System Strategy, particularly how the goals will be achieved and how they will be measured.

More specific details of the strategy can be found on the MAFF website and are summarized below.

Key Targets of Japan’s Green Food Strategy