Lonely furrow: Little pay dirt for organic farming in Japan

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Yuya Shibakai work at his organic vegetable farm in Inzai, Chiba prefecture. The Japanese farmer produces organic lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and other vegetables. (AFP)
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A worker prepares packages of organic vegetables at a farm in Inzai, Chiba prefecture. The market for “bio” or organic food in Japan is estimated to be worth just over $1 billion. (AFP)
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Yuya Shibakai works at his organic vegetable farm in Inzai, Chiba prefecture. (AFP)
Updated 06 June 2018

Lonely furrow: Little pay dirt for organic farming in Japan

  • While a craze for healthy eating has fueled lucrative sales around the world, the market for “bio” or organic food in Japan is estimated to be worth just over $1 billion.
  • One of the problems faced by shops offering organic food is a Japanese obsession with how fruit and vegetables look and are packaged

INZAI, Japan: Yuya Shibakai sometimes feels he is plowing a lonely furrow.
The Japanese farmer produces organic lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and other vegetables for a market that has tasted nothing like the success of the sector in other advanced economies.
On his farm outside Tokyo, the 32-year-old doggedly trudges along a line of lettuces, pulling up weeds by hand.
Shibakai says it is a “daily struggle to find ways to make a profit using a system you could call inefficient, where you have to pull all the weeds out by hand.”
“We need a different supply system in Japan, a sustainable structure for farmers that would also change the way our profession is seen,” added Shibakai, who took over the business from his parents in 2009.
Organic farming occupied just 0.5 percent of Japan’s entire arable area in 2016. The country hopes to double this by 2019, Akimi Uenaka, an official in charge of organic farming at the agriculture ministry, said.
However, Uenaka admitted the development of the sector in Japan was “slow,” as weeding and pest control take more time and organic farms struggle to produce a “stable” output due to technical limitations.
Shibakai is one of 12,000 organic farmers in the whole country, according to statistics from 2010, the last time the agriculture ministry collected figures from the nascent sector.
While a craze for healthy eating has fueled lucrative sales around the world, the market for “bio” or organic food in Japan is estimated to be worth just over $1 billion.
The world’s third-largest economy has a mere fraction of the global market of around $90 billion and is dwarfed by the US ($45 billion), Germany ($11 billion), France ($8 billion) and China ($7 billion).
Moreover, while even most of these mature markets are enjoying solid growth, the sector in Japan is stagnating.
One of the few players to dip a toe into the market is French organic retailer “Bio c’Bon,” which has had a presence in Japan since the end of 2016 and just opened its third shop in Tokyo.
A dearth of large-scale farming means the company has to work with around 200 individual farms for its fruit and vegetables and even import other goods — for example raspberries from Mexico, as well as organic wines and cheeses from France.
One of the problems faced by shops offering organic food is a Japanese obsession with how fruit and vegetables look and are packaged.
“Especially during the week, Japanese customers tend to shop very quickly and grab pre-packaged and pre-weighed goods,” said Pascal Gerbert-Gaillard, Asia director at Bio c’Bon.
“We are working to find a good balance between our brand and Japanese consumption habits,” he added.
As an example, he says his staff minutely check for any tiny imperfections in their vegetables and remove them from sale. They are donated to staff members.
Gerbert-Gaillard said organic food is gradually finding a market among “Japanese aged between 30 and 40, especially mothers, and expats.”
The firm has ambitious plans to grow its “minuscule offerings” by expanding to “around 30 shops in Tokyo and its suburbs before the 2020 Olympics,” he said.
But well-established smaller players have already found that organic food can be slow to gain traction.
Rika Oishi founded her organic firm SuperOrganic seven years ago, hoping to capitalize on a boom in demand — especially from foreigners — for “healthy” food after the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear meltdown.
“I have noticed a bit more interest down the years from consumers and firms, but it has not yet become a way of life,” she said.


Belgian farmer moves border with France by 2 meters

Updated 05 May 2021

Belgian farmer moves border with France by 2 meters

  • Group of local history enthusiasts discovered the move during a walk in a wooded area on the French side
  • In Belgian village of Erquelinnes, the mayor appeared keen to avoid an international incident

BRUSSELS: A Belgian farmer unwittingly extended his country’s territory by moving an ancient stone marking the border with France that was on his land.
A group of local history enthusiasts discovered the move during a walk in a wooded area on the French side.
The discovery of the stone, now sitting 2.20 meters (7.2 feet) away from where it was placed in accordance with a border agreement two centuries ago, has caused a flap in a normally sleepy rural area.
“If it belongs to us, it belongs to us. We don’t want to be robbed of 2 meters,” a resident of the French village of Bousignies-sur-Roc told RTL Info.
On the other side, in the Belgian village of Erquelinnes, mayor David Lavaux appeared keen to avoid an international incident.
“The land was sold and I think the person who bought it changed the borders the way he wanted,” he said. “But this isn’t just a private border, it’s a border between countries and you can’t just at will move boundary markers that have been there for a long time.”


Five charged in snatching at gunpoint of Lady Gaga’s dogs

Updated 30 April 2021

Five charged in snatching at gunpoint of Lady Gaga’s dogs

  • Gaga was filming in Rome in February when her dog walker was shot and her dogs stolen
  • The dogs were returned unharmed after Gaga offered a $500,000 reward

LOS ANGELES: Five people have been charged with attempted murder, robbery and other offenses in connection with the snatching at gunpoint in February of Lady Gaga’s dogs and the shooting of their walker, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office said on Thursday.
Police said in a separate statement that four of the five people arrested were known gang members. The fifth person, a woman, was the person who reported she had found the dogs and returned them.
The singer’s two dogs were returned two days after they were stolen in Hollywood.
The French bulldogs were snatched at night after their dog walker was shot in the chest. They were returned unharmed after Gaga offered a $500,000 reward.
Los Angeles police said on Thursday that detectives do not believe the suspects were targeting the victim because of the dogs’ owner.
“However, evidence suggests the suspects knew the great value of the breed of dogs and was the motivation for the robbery,” the statement said.
Gaga was filming in Rome when the theft occurred. Her dog walker, Ryan Fischer, said later that he had suffered “a very close call with death.”
Fischer was walking three of Gaga’s bulldogs in a residential area in Hollywood when a car pulled up alongside them and two men demanded he turn over the animals, police said at the time.
Fischer was shot once by the assailants, who drove off with two of the dogs. A third escaped and was later found by police.
The District Attorney’s Office said the defendants were expected to be arraigned later on Thursday.
Three individuals were charged with one count each of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit robbery and second-degree robbery. One of the three also was charged with assault and a firearms offense. The woman who claimed to have found the dogs and a fifth defendant were charged with being accessories after the fact. The woman additionally was charged with receiving stolen property.
“This was a brazen street crime that left a man seriously wounded,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement.
“We have alleged very serious charges in this case and have faith that justice will be appropriately served as this case unfolds in court.”


Polluted Lebanon lake spews out tons of dead fish

Updated 29 April 2021

Polluted Lebanon lake spews out tons of dead fish

  • A preliminary report said a virus had killed only carp in the highly polluted Qaraoun lake
  • Hundreds of fish lay dead on the lake’s banks and the stench of their rotting flesh clung to the air Thursday

QAROUN: Tonnes of dead fish have washed up on the shore of a highly polluted lake in eastern Lebanon in recent days, an official said Thursday.
It was not immediately clear what caused the dead fish in Lake Qaraoun on the Litani river, which several local fishermen said was unprecedented in scale.
A preliminary report said a virus had killed only carp in the lake, but a veteran water expert said their deaths could also have been caused by pollution.
Hundreds of fish of all sizes lay dead on the banks of the more than five kilometer long lake Thursday, and the stench of their rotting flesh clung to the air.
Men shoveled carcasses into a wheelbarrow, as a mechanical digger scooped up more into the back of a truck.
“It’s our third day here picking up dead fish,” said Nassrallah el-Hajj, from the Litani River Authority, dressed in fishing waders, adding they had so far “carried away around 40 tons.”
On the water’s edge, 61-year-old fisherman Mahmoud Afif said it was a “disaster.”
“In my life I’ve never seen anything like it,” said the father-of-two.
The Qaraoun lake was built as a reservoir on the Litani river in 1959 to produce hydropower and provide water for irrigation.
But in recent years experts have warned huge quantities of wastewater, industrial waste, and agricultural runoff containing pesticides and fertilizer flooding into it have made it increasingly toxic.
Since 2018 fishing has been forbidden in the reservoir as the fish there was declared unfit for human consumption, though fish from the lake have continued to appear in several markets.
The Litani River Authority and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon on Friday warned of a “viral epidemic,” and called for fishing to be forbidden in the Litani as well as in the lake.
It said the likely disease had only affected carp, while four other types of fish appeared to be unaffected.
AFP saw several dead fish with white cysts on their scales.
Kamal Slim, a water expert who has been taking samples of the lake water for the past 15 years, said pollution could also be the cause.
“Without analysis, we cannot be decisive,” said the researcher.
But the lake is also home to cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, and in warmer months the excess nutrients from pollution have caused the bacteria to erupt into bright green blooms that release toxins.
“Right now there is a cyanobacteria bloom, though less thick than last year,” he said, with the blooms harming fish, especially when they are weaker during mating and spawning seasons.
“Another possibility is very toxic ammonium,” he said.
In July 2016, Lebanese media reported that tons of fish floated to the surface overnight in Qaraoun.
Slim said at the time it was due to a toxic bloom.


Prince William, Kate release images to mark 10th anniversary

Updated 29 April 2021

Prince William, Kate release images to mark 10th anniversary

  • Two photographs show Prince William, second-in-line to the throne, and the former Kate Middleton in complementary shades of blue
  • William married his former university flatmate on April 29, 2011, at Westminster Abbey in a ceremony televised globally

LONDON: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge marked their 10th wedding anniversary Thursday by releasing photographs and a video offering an image of domestic bliss — a contrast to the tensions that have gripped Britain’s royal family in recent weeks.
Two photographs show Prince William, second-in-line to the throne, and the former Kate Middleton in complementary shades of blue. A video released later showed the family at play, replete with their smiling children walking near the sea.
William married his former university flatmate on April 29, 2011, at Westminster Abbey in a ceremony televised globally. They have three children: Prince George, 7, Princess Charlotte, 5, and Prince Louis, 3. The traditional gift for a 10th wedding anniversary is tin, a symbol of durability.
“Thank you to everyone for the kind messages on our wedding anniversary,” the couple said on their Twitter feed. “We are enormously grateful for the 10 years of support we have received in our lives as a family.”
The celebration comes 12 days after the funeral of Prince Philip, William’s grandfather, who died April 9 at the age of 99.
Last month, the family was rocked by an interview in which Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, alleged that palace staff had been insensitive toward Meghan and a member of the royal family had made racist comments about the couple’s first child. Harry, William’s younger brother, stepped away from royal duties last year and moved to California with his wife and son.


Female car repair shop owner blazes a trail in UAE

Updated 25 April 2021

Female car repair shop owner blazes a trail in UAE

  • Cars have been a hobby for Matroushi, 36, since childhood
  • Matroushi’s family had doubts about her pursuing a job in car mechanics

SHARJAH: Huda Al-Matroushi is one of few Emirati women to venture into the car repair business, an industry that has long been dominated by men in the Arab world.
“I enjoy it a lot,” says Matroushi, holding up her oil-stained work glove. “Because I’m on top of my job, and it’s my business, I belong to it: I feel proud of myself.”
Cars have been a hobby for Matroushi, 36, since childhood.
“I like cars and their models and their details. I like sports cars, I like luxurious cars, even normal non-luxurious cars, I love them all.”
She turned that passion into a profession and now owns and manages a car repair shop in Sharjah, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.
Matroushi’s family had doubts about her pursuing a job in car mechanics, but she asked her father to take a leap of faith with her.
“I said: ‘Dad, please trust me and you will see what I will do.’ He said: ‘OK, OK!’. Most of my family are surprised ... because this project, this business, it’s not easy for ladies,” she said.
Matroushi’s male employee, Mohammed Halawani, said it was initially strange to see a woman in charge of the garage.
“But after I joined and we started working and she’d tell me: disassemble this, assemble that, [it was clear] that she has experience.”
Matroushi hopes she can transform her single garage into a big repair center, or open more garages across the UAE.
The UAE stipulates under new legislation that came into effect last month that UAE-based companies must have at least one woman on their board of directors.

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