Urban Agriculture in Japan
Urban agriculture − the practice of cultivating crops and raising livestock in urban environments − has gained traction in various parts of the world, including Japan.
In 2019, urban farmland accounted for less than two percent (63,925 ha) of Japan's total farmland. Despite its small size, urban agriculture contributes up to 7 percent of the national agricultural output in 2020. The focus of urban farming primarily revolves around vegetable production, helping meet the demand for fresh produce within urban areas. Urban residents can buy and/or produce local fresh foods near their homes.
Picture credit: ArchDaily
Challenges to Urban Farmland Preservation
The lack of successors is a critical challenge faced by urban farming. The ageing population of farmers in urban areas raises concerns about the continuity of agricultural practices. Moreover, urban farmland within Urbanization Promotion Areas (UPAs), the intraurban areas where urban residents grow crops, is subject to heavy taxes. These tax regulations, alike those for residential land, do not qualify for inheritance tax deferment. As a result, approximately 60 percent of lost farmland is converted into residential areas and other non-agricultural usage, leading to a decline in available agricultural space.
Characteristics of Urban Farmers
Urban farmers typically engage in part-time farming while earning additional income from non-farming activities. In Tokyo metropolitan area, only 15 percent of farmers are full-time farmers, compared to 33 percent nationwide. The distribution of urban farmers also varies, with 51 percent being non-commercial farmers and 49 percent engaged in commercial farming in Tokyo metropolitan area. In contrast, nationwide, 59 percent of Japanese farmers are commercial, and 41 percent are non-commercial.
The ageing farming population raises a challenge to the future viability of urban agriculture. Ensuring the adoption of modern production methods and a smooth transition of agricultural fields to younger farmers becomes crucial. High taxes, including inheritance tax, deter landowners from maintaining productive farmland in urban areas. Addressing tax-related issues is essential to incentivize landowners to preserve agricultural spaces. Moreover, urban farmers face further issues due to expensive real estate prices and strict regulations, often encouraging them to consider alternative land uses over farming. The commercialisation of urban agricultural products often leads to their distribution in regional, national, or international markets. This overlooks the potential to promote sustainability by reducing food miles and benefitting the local economy through high value-added products.
Government Support for Urban Agriculture
The Law on Productive Green Areas, enacted in 1992, incentivizes farmland owners in Tokyo to register their farms as Productive Green Areas. In exchange for not selling or developing the land, they receive property tax breaks for 30 years. Over a thousand farms in Tokyo have been preserved through this initiative. The Specific Green Area Act, introduced in response to potential sales of protected farms for commercial development, extends benefits to farmers by allowing them to apply for a 10-year extension of tax benefits. The high adoption rate among farmers in Productive Green Areas highlights the effectiveness of this approach in safeguarding urban farmland.
Urban agriculture in Japan faces unique challenges arising from urbanisation and an ageing farming population. However, government initiatives like the Law on Productive Green Areas and the Specific Green Area Act highlight the country's commitment to preserving agricultural spaces within urban environments. By addressing challenges and providing support, Japan is paving the way for sustainable urban agriculture, contributing to food security and the overall well-being of its citizens.
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