Following the FEAST Symposium “Living with farmers’ markets: Transitioning to a sustainable society” in collaboration with Peace Flag Project at RIHN, Kyoto on November 23rd (Blog post is progress!), my next stop was Nagano. On the 24th, FEAST organized a seminar “Future of food and agriculture in Nagano: the role of citizens in transition to a sustainable society” at Gondou East Plaza in Nagano City.
Currently, FEAST’s field sites in Japan are located in Kyoto City and Kameoka City, Kyoto Prefecture and Noshiro City, Akita Prefecture. From the next project year, activities in Nagano City will be also off and running. The objective is to build civic food networks with the ultimate goal of forming a Japanese version of a Food Policy Council (hereafter, FPC), “Shoku to Nou no Mirai Kaigi” with the ability to act as a platform for bottom-up food policy creation. What is ideal sustainable “food”? What should the “food” we eat every day to survive and “agriculture” that produces food look like? What steps are necessary to realize this ideal vision? Japan today (of course, worldwide too) faces a myriad of challenges derived from overproduction and overconsumption, loss of food sovereignty and diversity loss (genetic, knowledge, culture). Furthermore, food miles (transportation distance from the origin of production to consumption to assess the environmental impact) in Japan is much longer compared to other countries. Government surveys show that 83% of Japanese harbor anxiety towards decreasing domestic food self-sufficiency. Various efforts have been made in relation to food and agriculture at the governmental, citizen groups’ and individual levels in Japan. A more comprehensive mechanism that sees the big picture and has the ability to coordinate necessary actions is needed, but is yet to be established in Japan. FPC, originating in North America in the 1980’s, represents such a mechanism. It serves as a forum where government officials, citizens and their groups, and relevant actors in agrifood systems get together to discuss various policies on public health, urban and open space planning, transportation, exchange and cooperation among citizens, taxation and other regulations, as well as environmental and agricultural issues. Plans are coordinated toward actions for a better future. FEAST hopes that Nagano can also incorporate this mechanism into a regional policy scheme with a vision for regional development.
The main purpose of this seminar was to introduce the research activities of FEAST, various challenges related to food and agriculture in Japan and overseas, and international cases of civic food networks, such as FPC and Transition Town, to the people in Nagano towards starting up a Nagano version of the FPC. Nearly 30 people joined the seminar and asked many questions after the presentation by Steven McGreevy, some of which are very important and relevant when we plan activities in Nagano.
-Who usually establishes FPC?
-Older generation in rural areas still thinks attracting companies, factories, and firms is the best and fastest approach toward rural development. How can we throw off the mantle of the old-fashioned mindset?
-A sense of crisis/fear shared among local residents in some town in Kyushu has played a prerequisite role in achieving self-sufficiency. What kind of sense of crisis/fear do the citizens in Nagano have in common to replicate the success?
-What is the scale of foodshed in Nagano?
-What are the keys and tips to positively engage ourselves as consumers in food and agriculture?
-What would be the level of “scale” to carry out activities in Nagano?
-It is essential to take sustainability into account to effectively operate food system (from production to consumption) in the region. How should we balance sustainability with other factors such as convenience and cost?
Other participants shared their opinions and ideas such as “the seminar gave me an opportunity to think about the importance of ‘tsunagari (linkage)’ within the region” and “it might be helpful to motivate people, for example, if we have an index to visualize how much time is spent for farming in a year.”
FEAST is planning another five seminars by the end of this project year in Nagano. Assessment and mapping of the regional food system, and visioning of the ideal future are to be followed in the next project year. They would possibly serve as the catalyst for transitioning into a more sustainable society in which the voice of consumers is reflected in the process of production, distribution and processing, making consumers more akin to “co-producers” in food system. The information on the next Nagano seminar will be up on Facebook etc. once confirmed. Looking forward to having you all there!