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Farmers Should Complain Less, Says Japanese Writer

May 14, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Japanese editorial writer says some of his country’s farmers complain too much while others are more energetic and have a positive attitude about their way of life.

Yasuhiko Kishi of the Nihon Keizai Shimbum newspaper says farmers’ meetings are usually preceded with a comment that ″the operating environment surrounding the agricultural sector is difficult, or severe.″

In other words, Japanese farmers apparently agree with many others in the world: it’s too dry or too wet, prices too low, expenses too high. Not to mention the government, politicians, television, radio, newspapers and assorted columnists.

″Now, while this is certainly true, the situation is not going to change by moaning about how bad things are,″ Kishi wrote. ″It must seem to those outside agriculture that farmers wallow in the word difficult.″

But Kishi is not exactly a latter-day H.L. Mencken, the acerbic Baltimore writer who more than 60 years ago characterized the American farmer as ″grasping, selfish and dishonest.″

″When the going is good for him, he robs the rest of us up to the extreme limit of our endurance,″ Mencken wrote. ″When the going is bad, he comes bawling for help out of the public till.″

Kishi offers some suggestions for Japanese farmers, beginning with a proposal to eliminate the word ″difficult″ from their vocabulary.

″Perhaps it is best if those farmers who truly believe that their future is bleak and that nothing can be done about it should pack up and quit farming,″ Kishi said. ″I would like to see land that is no longer used leased to those who would really like to farm it.″

Kishi told of one farmer, a Mr. U, who has used his region’s ″supposedly poor, mountainous conditions to his best advantage by leasing land at various altitudes and then rotating his vegetable crops ″to exploit the different climates″ and weather that prevail at the different levels.

″It is precisely this kind of bold response to adversity that is required of farmers today,″ he said.

Turning to another problem, Kishi said the biggest mistake in Japan’s basic agricultural law ″may possibly be its attempt to try to foster independent management″ of farms, he said.

″Farmers who are serious about farming do not want to be fostered,″ Kishi said. ″Those who do are not worth being fostered in the first place. The role of an agricultural administration is to create an environment in which enthusiastic and capable farmers can perform to their fullest.″

Kishi said more diversification is needed in Japanese agriculture. No longer should there be ″one village, one specialty product″ in Japan.

″This is an age when diversification is required of both agricultural products and the farmers that grow them,″ he said. ″To meet consumers’ changing tastes, supplies and suppliers must also diversify. Take vegetables as an example: some customers feel that vegetables are not fresh unless they still have the soil on them; others are so busy that they want their produce ready-cut. Agriculture must respond according to consumers’ needs.″

In Kishi’s view, one of the disadvantages of Japan’s food system is that it has created large numbers of farmers who are unaware the difficulties of marketing.

″All that farmers have to do is take their rice to the agricultural cooperatives,″ he said. ″After that, they don’t have to do a thing; the rice is sold to the government for them at a set price and the money is deposited into their accounts.″

Kishi said it’s only natural, therefore, that farmers quickly forget about the concept of selling commodities. He said Mr. U belives that management translates into sales.

″Why is it that ideas that sound like common sense in other industries sound so radically new in the agricultural sector? I would also like to add, at the risk of being misunderstood, that it is a virtue for farmers to be shrewd and money conscious,″ he said.

Another problem involves the entry of young people into farming. Kishi said that in most of Japan there is a lament that farm households have no one to take over, no youthful succesors.

″This is an age when those few that do choose farming do so because they truly want to,″ Kishi said. ″Isn’t it the case that what has been lacking in Japan’s agriculture is precisely the pride that is shown by those who choose farming of their own accord?″

Kishi’s remarks were reprinted in the May issue of Japan Agrinfo Newsletter, which is published by the Japan International Agricultural Council, Tokyo.

End Adv for Sunday, May 14

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