June 8, 2017
HOW GOVERNMENT FIXES PRICE OF RICE IN JAPAN
The farmer’s suicide at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar reminded me of my visit to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture at Tokyo in 1990. I was on a lecture tour of Japan at the invitation of the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). My itinerary for that tour also included a visit to the Ministry of Agriculture at Tokyo and to meet and have discussion with the people at the ministry connected with fruits.
One of the officers at the Ministry, Dr. Itamura, told me that on that day discussions were also in progress at the Ministry about a very important as well as sensitive subject. On my asking, he told me that they were going to take a decision about fixing the price (something like our minimum support price) of rice in Japan.
Ministry of Agriculture building at Tokyo
I do not remember the exact figure now, but I had noticed that rice, which was the main food of Japanese, was very expensive in Japan. I told Itamura that rice was already very expensive in Japan and did they intend to reduce it to make it more affordable for public. He said that it was not like that. In fact there was a feeling that the margin of profit in current price of rice was not enough and therefore farmers were not finding it attractive to grow paddy. So there was a fear in the government the farmers may not start shifting to other professions and leave farming. The authorities were therefore thinking for an upward revision of price of rice.
It will not be out of place to tell the readers here that in Japan there is no unemployment. Rather there is a perpetual shortage of workers in every area so it is not at all difficult to change jobs there. If a farmer did not like farming for some reason, he could quit and start working in industry. The Japanese government did not want that to happen at any cost. Therefore, it had always been trying to keep this profession attractive.
Now let me tell something about how Japanese farmers too. In Japan they use only flat lands and avoid slopes. So there is a shortage of cultivable flat land. Therefore they try to make use of every vacant piece of flat land. If there was vacant piece of land measuring even 10x10 feet located even between two houses, it will not be left uncultivated and they will plant paddy there too. To work at such pieces, the Japanese farmer, usually accompanied by his wife, will come in his pick up van with rice planting implements. Both of them will then get down from their vehicle, dress up in a water proof dungaree like dress; wear a water proof hat, gum boots, waterproof gloves and also special goggles to protect their eyes before entering the field. Only then they will enter the field and start planting paddy seedlings. After that they will again change their clothes. I noticed that during this process, the mud of paddy field did not touch any of their body parts.
Japanese paddy grower couple working in the paddy field
Dr. Itamura told me that naturally they needed enough money to maintain their life style as everything was expensive in Japan. If they had to enter the paddy fields barefooted and bare handed as farmers in other Asian counties did, they will leave farming out of frustration and take to some other job. The Japanese government did not want this to happen and did not bother about the price level. For them the comfort of rice farmer was more important.
Will someday the Indian government will also think like that?