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Government Targets Rate of 45% by Fiscal 2010

June 5, 2000

The Japanese government recently decided on a target of raising the food self-sufficiency rate--that is, the ratio of food consumed daily by the Japanese that is supplied by domestic production--to 45% by fiscal 2010, a five-percentage-point increase over the fiscal 1998 level of 40%. The goal is based on the idea of food security, by which a country should endeavor to ensure the minimum necessary supply of food in case of poor harvests at home or abroad caused by such factors as abnormal weather conditions, or in case of an unexpected situation, such as a state of war. Japan is the first developed country to set a numerical target for food self-sufficiency. From now on the government will make all-out efforts to increase the production of agricultural and other products. But it will face many issues in trying to reach the target, as the main causes of the decline in the self-sufficiency rate are, after all, such factors as a shift to Western-style eating habits and a near-zero recycling rate for leftovers, nearly all of which are discarded as waste.

Lowest Self-sufficiency Rate
Although there are several ways of measuring the food self-sufficiency rate, it is usually calculated on a calorific supply base. Different foods, such as grain, vegetables, and meat, are converted into the common measure of energy, or calories, and the ratio that can be supplied domestically is calculated. Among the developed nations, Japan has the lowest level of 41%, compared with, for example, 139% for France at the top, 132% for the United States, 97% for Germany, 77% for Britain, and 59% for Switzerland (1997 estimates by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries based on materials of the Food and Agriculture Organization).

It is in view of this low ranking that the Japanese government has decided on a target of raising the self-sufficiency rate on a calorific supply base by five percentage points to 45% over the next decade, on the premises that various problems in agricultural production are solved and, furthermore, that the Japanese switch to low-fat eating habits.

In addition to the self-sufficiency rate on a calorific supply base, the government aims to raise Japan's fodder self-sufficiency rate, meaning feed for livestock, from the fiscal 1998 level of 25% to 35% over the same period and to increase the total self-sufficiency rate on a financial base--the share of domestic production value to the total cost of food supplied domestically--from 70% to 74% over the same period. Also, the government has set production and self-sufficiency targets by product. For example, it aims to raise product-specific self-sufficiency rates from 9% to 12% for wheat, from 3% to 5% for soybeans, from 84% to 87% for vegetables, and from 55% to 61% for meat.

Changes in Eating Habits and Affluent Dining
Japan used to maintain quite a high self-sufficiency rate on a calorific supply base; in fiscal 1960 it was 79%, about the same as that of Britain now. Since then, however, the rate has continued almost constantly on a downward trend, dropping nearly 40 percentage points over four decades. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries estimates that if this trend continues, the rate will fall to about 38% in fiscal 2010.

The rapid shift to Western-style eating habits in Japan since the end of World War II has had a major impact on the decline in the self-sufficiency rate. Consumption of such foods as meat for which the self-sufficiency rate is low has increased considerably. For example, the annual per capita consumption of rice dropped by 40% from 112 kilograms (247 pounds) in fiscal 1965 to 67 kilograms (148 pounds) in fiscal 1997, while the per capita consumption of meat increased by more than three times from 9 kilograms (20 pounds) to 31 kilograms (68 pounds) over the same period and that of oils and fats jumped from 6 kilograms (13 pounds) to 15 kilograms (33 pounds). As a result, feed grain imports rose by nearly three times to 16 million metric tons (35.4 billion pounds), and imports of the raw materials for oil, such as soybeans, also increased. According to the ministry, this change in eating habits accounts for nearly 70% of the self-sufficiency rate's decline.

Another factor is that the large amounts of leftover food discarded by restaurants and households are hardly being recycled. The raw waste discarded by supermarkets, department stores, eating establishments, hotels, and other facilities amounts to six million tons (13.2 billion pounds) a year, but the recycling ratio does not even reach 1%. If this raw waste were turned into livestock feed and fodder imports thereby cut back, it would have the effect of increasing the self-sufficiency rate.

The government will strive to achieve improvements in the situation and to increase the production of agricultural products, but the hurdles are high. Many observers suggest that for food security, it is equally important for Japan to make diplomatic efforts to disperse the sources of its food product imports.

Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.