World Social Science Forum (WSSF) 2018 was organized in Fukuoka, Japan for four days from Sept 25th to 28th. FEAST organized four sessions, three of which “CS03-02: The wild food basket: recreating urban and rural ecosystems as food sources” on the 25th, “CS4-07: Building a new food economy in Japan through sharing, collaboration, and commoning” on the 26th and “CS1-03: Lifeworlds of Sustainability and Wellbeing in a Shrinking Japan” on the 28th involved around the research outputs of WG6 and the FEAST members made the following seven presentations.
CS03-02: The wild food basket: recreating urban and rural ecosystems as food sources
Chair: Norie Tamura
Enhancing food security beyond access to formal food markets will require eaters to diversify their palates and look to natural ecosystems as sources of sustenance. Wild plants, animals, and insects continue to be a key component of meals eaten all over the world, and a revival of wild food production and consumption is happening in places where nature’s bounty had become unfashionable. Active rewilding, conservation management, or the gradual under management of cultivated landscapes has enabled urban and rural ecosystems to become “wild food baskets” for consumers and producers. This session explores the recreation of the wild food basket in both urban and rural settings and what meaning it holds for larger discussions of food security, dietary change, and ecosystem management. Special attention is paid to sources of wild protein, high-value niche products, the revival of wild food harvesting practices, and the creation or maintenance of wild food markets.
1. “A look into Bhutan’s transitions in wild food security”
Bhutan has been looked to in recent years, among other things, as a “lighthouse” in the world of environmental conservation and sustainable development. However, with increasing urbanization and depopulation in rural communities, food security has become an issue of increasing national importance. The government has expanded their efforts to support food production through an emphasis on increasingly market oriented approaches and distribution systems. Alongside an increase in legislation and rules to regulate these changes, there has been an increasing presence of the religious body in influencing what foods people grow or catch and consume.
This paper looks at factors influencing the formalization of informal food practices with a particular emphasis on wild food (wild vegetables and wild meats) collection and consumption within Bhutan. This paper is based household questionnaire surveys and personal interviews conducted in three districts Bhutan in January and February 2018.
2. “The challenge of rural revitalization：Developing and rediscovering wild food harvesting practices”
Before modernization, transportation infrastructure was insufficient in most mountainous villages in Japan. This made securing a self-sufficient food system essential for the survival of people in those isolated villages. In addition to produce from home gardens, wild food such as wild vegetables and fungi constituted an important part of a regional food system as they supplemented nutrients and were also cash crops. With the progress of modernization, however, wild food has been replaced by general food products distributed from distant production sites and related harvesting practices have been lost in those villages: the modern industrial food system replaced the traditional local food system.
However, knowledge and skills related to wild food have been recently rediscovered and reevaluated as local resources in Japan. In the context of rural revitalization, more and more local groups and networks are trying to adopt local wild food traditions as a new resource for rural development. This paper presents the results of a case study conducted in a mountainous village in Fukui Prefecture, Japan, and shows how the value of wild food has been changing in the local foodscape as well as how rediscovering related practices impacts the regional sustainability through rural revitalization.
3. “Honey bees in urban Kyoto—a revival story? Bee-friendly zones and potential impact on urban agriculture”
When talking about beekeeping’s contribution to the wild food basket, we talk about a bridge between wildlife and domestication, individual pleasure and public service, traditional practice and niche-innovation. Bees produce on the one hand the high value product honey, are sometimes consumed in their larva stage, and contribute on the other hand to the flourishment of food and ecosystems through pollination. But what if the number of beekeepers is shrinking, landscapes change, and bees are threatened by parasites and pesticides?
This presentation looks at some of the results from conceptual and spatial mapping, semi-structured interviews, and online surveys, researching public attitude towards and knowledge about honeybees, consumer behavior around bee products, as well as beekeeping conditions, motivations, and practices in the urban setting of Kyoto, Japan.
CS4-07: Building a new food economy in Japan through sharing, collaboration, and commoning
Chair: Christoph Rupprecht and Steven McGreevy
The essential nature of food in our daily lives means food is constantly bought and sold through ubiquitous food markets and their economic circuits. These systems of provision have proven very difficult to change, even though their practices are unsustainable and their power structures are unequal. Japan’s food system relies heavily on imported food and farm inputs, creates an enormous quantity of waste, and has severely weakened domestic markets. However, food in particular has always been at the center of informal economic relationships between people in various forms of sharing and gifting. Food consumption and production can be communal activities that create closer relational ties to people, places, and nature, foster greater awareness, and increase well-being. New forms of food sharing, collaboration, and commoning are emerging in Japan that demonstrate the potential for building a new food economy based on principles of solidarity and collective well-being. This session is a collection of cases from Japan and case-comparisons with examples from outside of Japan that illustrate this potential and capture the broad range of activities that make up the new food economy.
4. “Informal management and sharing of seeds in Japan”
Ayako Kawai, Australian National University
Over the past century, the dominant system of vegetable seed production in Japan has shifted from informal seed production by farmers to formal production by seed companies. Local farmers used to save seeds on their own, but now mainly purchase hybrid seeds every year, as using these seeds is a condition for market distribution. This shift has been associated with the commercialization of vegetables, and thus with the need for mass-production of highly standardized vegetables. Meanwhile, seed saving activities in the informal domain have become marginalized due to changes in market and local food culture, and with the breakdown of intergenerational transfer of farming practices. As a result, diverse vegetable varieties are being lost.
Seed saving practices in informal domains could potentially contribute to on-farm conservation of agricultural diversity. Keeping diverse varieties and associated skills in the hands of farmers can also contribute to the well-being of the farmers.
In contemporary Japan, movements are emerging within which seed saving is practiced in the informal domain. Some of them are local initiatives attempting to conserve traditional varieties that are disappearing, some are organic farmers struggling to make their living out of selling seed-saved vegetables, and some are people practicing seed saving as part of their lifestyle. I will introduce those different seed saving cultures, and show how seeds, skills and values are shared among members.
5. “The informal food economy of unattended food stands: case studies from Tsushima and Kyoto”
Mai Kobayashi, Takanori Oishi (African Studies Center, TUFS)
Informal food activities are characterized by non-formalized human and financial resource structures, and their lack of trackable or registered activity with the state. As opposed to formal food systems, which relates to food as a commodity, the informal food system places more emphasis on food as process of co-production, or food as commons. In an attempt to deepen our understandings of the informal food system, this presentation explores the role of unattended vegetable stands in Japan, by focusing on to locations where such food stands have been found to exist in relatively high density. The two locations are Tsushima and Kyoto. Tsushima Island is located between Kyushu Island of Japan and the Korean peninsula, where a complex of small-scale (or minor) subsistence activities have been sustained throughout the island, including charcoal making, Shiitake mushroom cultivation, honeybee keeping based on forest resources; livestock breeding, organic farming in the valleys; and coastal fishery including seaweed collection and shellfish gathering. Despite its rich resources, the majority of residents have come to depend on imported foods and resources from mainland Japan. This has led to growing concerns over, and improved opportunities to enhance local food security. The area in Kyoto City, on the other hand, was located in the periphery of a city, and a popular tourist destination site. This paper will introduce and analyze various practices of unattended food stalls and how they are contributing to the overall food system.
CS1-03: Lifeworlds of Sustainability and Wellbeing in a Shrinking Japan
Depopulation, aging, and economic stagnation in many countries are usually framed as negative issues to be avoided. In Japan, the socio-economic decline is interpreted as engendering a sense of society-wide precarity (Allison 2013). To some extent, however, there are signs that Japan’s mix of demographic and economic contraction is the unavoidable reality for much of the developed world (Magnus 2008, Matanle et al. 2011) and that consumerism itself, the driving force behind economic growth, may be fading from view (Cohen 2017). From a sustainability perspective, the inevitability of a shrinking society and economy aligns with renewed calls for “de-growing” the economy and decreasing material footprints (Giacomo et al. 2014). Formulating synergetic and effective responses to these emerging societal needs that, at the same time, maintain the high quality of life Japan enjoys is the focus of this session. Japan’s shrinking society represents an opportunity to reduce overall ecological impacts, rethink the values associated with wide-spread understandings of wellbeing, and restructure economic interrelationships to align with reduced resource consumption. Papers in this session explore the ways in which shrinking societies experiencing economic decline are enhancing sustainability and enabling new, more satisfying ways of living counter to contemporary adherence to mass consumerism and economic growth. Examples from urban and rural Japan highlight elements of agricultural landscapes and food, sanitation, and urban planning and design that share the potential positive benefits of shrinking societies.
Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Duke University Press.
Cohen, Maurie. 2017. The Future of Consumer Society: Prospects for Sustainability in the New Economy. Oxford.
D’Alisa, Giacomo, Frederico Demaria, & Giorgos Kallis. 2014. Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era. Routledge.
Magnus, George. 2008. The Age of Aging: How Demographics are Changing the Global Economy and Our World. Wiley.
Matanle, Peter & Anthony Rausch with the Shrinking Regions Research Group. 2011. Japan’s Shrinking Regions in the 21st Century: Contemporary Responses to Depopulation and Socioeconomic Decline. Cambria Press.
6. “Redefining wellbeing amongst new settlers in a withering rural Japan”
Japan’s rural areas are some of the hardest hit when facing the challenges of a shrinking society. Depopulated villages, abandoned farmhouses and fields, and limited capacity in providing basic public services are just some of the most visible problems. Yet, there are significant numbers of young people, families, and retirees who leave urban places and settle in the countryside to pursue new lifestyles and livelihoods, many of which involve agriculture. Why do they come and settle in the very places that are most at risk of vanishing? This paper presents data from a survey of new entry farmers to upland Nagano prefecture as well as case studies from various locations in rural Japan that detail ways in which newcomers are redefining individual and community wellbeing amidst deteriorating conditions. Alternative notions of a “good life” and the strength of relationships formed between newcomers and the environment and their community are just some of the reasons that make rural living attractive. We explore the potential of these ideas in the context of signifying a broader, society-wide shift in cultural values in modern Japan.
7. “Subsist and thrive: caring for people and nature in post-growth urban Japan”
Post-growth Japan faces a huge infrastructure bill – not counting the investments necessary to adapt urban areas to a warming planet. How can residents subsist and thrive when the dominant paradigm of controlling nature in the city stops functioning? In this talk I attempt a radical shift from current ideas and concepts of government-led, controlled planning to explore how human and non-human wellbeing in shrinking cities might benefit from a stewardship approach. For this purpose, I draw upon a wide range of concepts from degrowth and more-than-human geography/planning to biocultural diversity theory and Japanese traditional ecological stewardship concepts of satoyama and satoumi.
You can also see the abstracts about another FEAST session “CS4-05: Using game-based methods for sustainability transformations : lessons from practice and theory” from here.