On November 6-7th, the first RIH/UCB International Workshop “Food, Agriculture, and Human Impacts on the Environment: Japan, Asia and Beyond” to commemorate the signing of a memorandum of understanding was held on the Berkeley campus. Norie Tamura (WG 3 Chair/Senior Researcher), Mai Kobayashi (Project Researcher) and Daniel Niles (Associate Professor) gave talks on the WG3 research outputs as follows:
Part I. Food and Agriculture
Session 2. Organic agriculture and scale: Balancing environmental and consumer demands
Mai Kobayashi | What we see from Bhutan and its relationship with ‘organic’ agriculture
Bhutan has been portrayed as a “lighthouse” in the world of organic agriculture since its announcement to go 100% organic at the Rio+20 conference in 2012. Taking advantage of the fame gained in adopting a post-growth Gross National Happiness development strategy and an agriculture characterized by low input small scale farming, the Bhutanese Ministry of Agriculture and Forests initiated a policy to promote organic agriculture in 2006. At the same time, the ever-increasing pressures to modernize agricultural production and grow the national economy has influenced the social discourse on “organic agriculture” in the country and threatened to reduce it to a mere marketing strategy to sell “Brand Bhutan.” This paper will trace Bhutan’s shifting relationship to development and food security through looking at the top-down policy level discourse, and the ways in which farmers have been variously modifying, adapting, adjusting, and resisting such pressures. Research is based on fieldwork conducted in Bhutan in 2014 and interviews and literature review conducted in and around Bhutan since then.
Session 3. Food policy supporting the future of sustainable agriculture
Norie Tamura | Agricultural policy and future directions in Japan: gaps, scales and destinations
Agriculture in Japan today is characterized by a decline in an agricultural output, increasing abandoned farmland, a shrinking and aging population of farmers, and a lack of farm successors. Japan is one of the biggest net importers of agriproducts and its food self-sufficiency ratio on a calorie basis is only 39%. Taken in combination, Japan’s overall food security is weak, the declining agricultural sector results in decaying rural areas, and subsequently jeopardizes the country’s long-term sustainability and resilience. The Government of Japan has been overhauling agricultural policies since 2011 within the framework of “Transformation of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries into growth industries.” From the government’s perspective, if Japan’s agriculture becomes highly-industrialized through large-scale intensification, improved output efficiency, a high level of productivity, production of high added-value products and the deployment of more innovative technology into agriculture, it can compete in the mainstream global marketplace, and then achieve the objectives of greater self-sufficiency and rural development. However, such a policy strategy has two problems: Firstly, is it applicable to different municipalities characterized by diversified and unique geographical conditions? Secondly, will it really lead to a sustainable future in rural areas if concepts such as agroecology and food sovereignty are not taken into account? This study was conducted to investigate agricultural policy at the municipal level with two specific objectives: (1) to find out whether there are gaps in agricultural policy between the national and municipal level, and (2) to evaluate whether municipal level policies promote agroecology and food sovereignty. This study is still under way, and the results obtained thus far will be presented. A text analysis of policy documents shows that the municipal governments do not proactively advocate exporting food products, competing in global food markets, or the entry of corporations into the agricultural sector as opposed to the national government. On the other hand, “urban-rural exchange” and “migration and settlement” are found quite common in policy at the municipal level. It could be argued that unlike the national level, the municipal-level policy aims at the “re-commoning of food,” which generates new linkages between rural areas and urban citizens through engagement in agriculture, and the “de-commodification of food” by entirely new distribution channels such as chisan chisho (local production for local consumption). The results also indicate that the municipal governments are more concerned about agroecology and food sovereignty as a guiding idea for policy compared to the national government. To understand how these ideas are positioned in municipal-level policy, and to collect data on various cases of how these new policy ideas promote transition of the municipal governments, further research on a larger scale is planned. This research ultimately attempts to develop policy recommendations to promote transition of agricultural policy at the municipal level.
Part II. Heritage and Human Impacts on the Environment
Session 4. Landscape, Materiality & Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Daniel Niles | Beyond control: agricultural heritage and the Anthropocene
The idea of the Anthropocene has swept through the natural and social sciences and even the humanities as have few concepts in recent memory. While it can be understood to boost the technocentric ideal of human control of the biosphere, the concept is also deeply unsettling to modern science, as it presents the possibility of a nature veering entirely out of control. In opening up such different views of nature and human-nature relationships, the Anthropocene presents an unusual epistemological opportunity. Interestingly, to date the word has remarkably little resonance in Asia. Why might this be the case? This paper explores agricultural heritage zones (of Asia, and other regions) as examples of some of humankind’s most sustainable cultural-ecological experience. In epistemological terms, this knowledge, accrued over millennia, is still little understood. Closer attention to its diverse forms and workings can expand our understanding of contemporary agri-environmental challenges and our Anthropocene imaginaries.
Please see the blog post on the workshop from this link.