Awaji Conference Statement 2005

The Asia Pacific Forum, Awaji Conference Japan 2005
(August 6th 2005, Awaji Yumebutai International Conference Center)

The 6th Asia Pacific Forum, Awaji Conference, was held at Hyogo Prefectural Awaji Yumebutai International Conference Center on August 5 and 6, 2005. At the Conference leading academicians and experts invited from Japan and abroad participated in lively discussions regarding the theme "Food Crisis in a Rapidly Growing Asia."

Global Food Challenges

From the 1st century to the beginning of the 20th century, the world's population grew gradually, reaching 1.6 billion in the beginning of the 20th century, roughly four times the level of the 1st century. During the 20th century, however, the population exploded to 6 billion, nearly four times the level marked in the beginning of the same century. Will the global population continue to increase at such a phenomenal rate? If so, will it be possible to continue to supply sufficient food to the growing human population?

Obviously, this explosive population growth will not continue forever. In Japan, for instance, population will begin to decrease before long. The population of China, approximately 1.3 billion at present, is predicted to stop growing after reaching 1.6 billion in a few decades. Although there is no guarantee that such predictions are accurate, we can reasonably assume that during the 21st century the global population will grow to approximately 12 billion. If so, will this growth result in food crises?

Humans have already experienced food crises. Even in modern Japan, we experienced an extreme shortage of soybeans because of the poor harvest of the crop worldwide in 1973, and a poor harvest of rice in Japan in 1993, which forced the Japanese government to import rice as an emergency measure. Regional food crises are likely to occur repeatedly in various parts of the world. Of various factors contributing to food crises, abnormal weather and shortage of water can particularly exacerbate food production. Prospects are particularly grave for the Sub-Saharan region and other parts of Africa.

It is not adequate, however, to assert that a global food crisis is inevitable, affecting all human societies. The growth of agricultural output to date is more attributable to the increasing yield per unit area than an increase in the area of farmland. Since progress in agricultural technology has enabled an increase in per-acre agricultural output, continued progress in biotechnology and other advanced agricultural technologies can possibly increase food production to meet the demand of 12 billion people, the estimated level of global population in the end of this century.

Of course, there will be many challenges in the course of developing new technologies. In the past "Green Revolution" experiments, for instance, after the development of new and epochal varieties of wheat and rice, numerous pests appeared that devastated crops of improved varieties. Likewise, we cannot deny risks of unknown challenges involved in gene recombination technologies or any other advanced technologies. At the same time, however, humans will continue developing more advanced technologies to address whatever challenges they may be confronted with, just as agronomists in the past developed newer varieties of wheat and rice with enhanced resistance to pests, and eventually achieved greater food production.

On the other hand, even if the macroscopic balance is maintained between the demand of growing global population and the total food supply, temporary food crises may still be caused by natural and/or social factors. It is also highly possible that serious crises will occur in some regions or countries due to geographic imbalance. So long as sufficient food is available in a global market, countries with purchasing power can be free from food crises. On the other hand, developing countries with high population growth rates are vulnerable to persistent food crises, particularly when agricultural technologies cannot be diffused due to political instability, often associated with civil wars. In addition, as suggested by the participant from Fiji, there is a serious concern for submersion of low-lying territories due to the rising of sea levels associated with global warming.

To sum up, rather than catastrophic global food crises, humanity is more likely to be confronted with a series of serious challenges that affect specific regions. Our human society must combine efforts and wisdom to overcome such challenges.

Rapid Growth of the Asian Economy and Food Problems

We often hear it argued that because of rapid economic growth in Asia, China and other Asian countries with huge populations are likely to drain food and energy available in the global market, tightening the global food supply significantly. Such arguments often refer to Japan's emergency imports of rice in 1993. In that year, due to the poor domestic harvest of rice, the Japanese government imported 2.6 million tons of rice, which consequently raised the international market price, making it difficult for poor people in developing countries to buy rice. Many people are concerned that China's economic growth may possibly tighten food supply, affecting poorer people in Asian developing countries even more significantly.

As stated earlier, however, China's population growth is predicted to level off in the next 20 to 30 years. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that Chinese people's stomachs will expand in tandem with their country's economic growth. A more realistic scenario is the shortage of fodder for livestock, since along with economic growth, dietary habits change from grain- to meat-oriented. Even greater challenges for China, which has manifested its ambition to increase its GDP fourfold in the two decades from 2000 to 2020, are energy shortages and environmental degradation. Given these factors, it is unlikely that the rapid economic growth of China and some other Asian countries will reverse the current decline of food prices, bringing about food shortages in the global market. On the contrary, the Asian region might possibly develop into a prosperous area with high purchasing power and resistance to food crises. At the World Food Summit, held in Rome in 1996, participants adopted the Millennium Development Goal, which declared a plan to halve by the year 2015 the proportion of the world's people who suffer from hunger. In the Asian region, this goal is likely to be achieved even before the target year.

In China the greatest challenge concerning food production is the shortage of water. Having only a quarter of the world's average level of water supply per capita, China is currently struggling against desertification by such means as irrigation and tree-planting. Historically, Chinese people have worked constantly to plant forests on mountainsides and to improve rivers. Regarding agricultural water shortages, India is faced with still greater challenges than China, since India has higher population growth rate, and its farmers depend more on rainwater than Chinese farmers.

Although the rapid economic and population growth of China and India occasionally evoke a sense of crisis and menace, which might result in unreasonable hostility against people of these countries or even political conflicts, we should analyze risks scientifically and extend all possible cooperation within our capacity to resolve common challenges of Asian countries. Whether water shortage, environmental degradation, or agricultural problems, the challenges are common to the entire region and we should address them through joint efforts.

Food Problems in Japan

Specialists have different views as to the magnitude of food problems facing Japan. Those who believe that a global food crisis is unavoidable have entirely different opinions from those who believe that we can increase food supply to meet the growing global population's needs. Of course an unimaginable disaster could occur, resulting in a great famine on a global basis. Neither can we deny the possibility that the destruction of global environment, most notably global warming, may reach a critical level, submerging many arable lands. Aside from such natural catastrophes, human and social factors can halt economic activities on a global scale. While keeping in mind the possibility of such devastations, it is important to develop the most probable scenario, based on past experiences and recent study results.

Even on the assumption that through various efforts we will be able to maintain the macroscopic balance between global food supply and the growing global population needs, it is still a pressing issue for us in Japan to avoid possible food crises that might be caused by various natural and social factors, and to augment stable food supply systems.

At present, Japan's food self-sufficiency rate is as low as 40%. This low rate has naturally led to national arguments demanding that more efforts be made to increase the self-sufficiency rate. Some argue that rice cultivation should be protected by all means, stressing the various functions that rice paddies fulfill, including maintaining food security and preserving the national land, water resources, environment and scenic landscapes.

From a different viewpoint, the 40% food self-sufficiency rate indicates that Japan is among the world's major powers that import foreign agricultural products constantly and steadily. Despite a commonly-held impression of Japan, it does not protect domestic agricultural production except for some specific items, which are often discussed as symbols of Japan's protectionism. They include rice (tariff rate of 490% for imports exceeding 760,000 tons), wheat (tariff rate: 210%), butter (tariff rate: 330%) and konnyaku potato (tariff rate: 900%), but these items comprise only 10% of Japan's agricultural items. Even with these exceptions, Japan is still open to agricultural products harvested abroad.

There are several reasons for the opening of Japan's markets to overseas agricultural products. First, it is impossible to maintain unilateral protectionism under the current global economic system, where mutual dependence is advancing further than ever before. Next, even though Japan seemingly has no water shortage problem, through imports of agricultural products, Japan actually imports a massive quantity of water. It is essential that Japan rid itself of its dependency on high-cost domestic agricultural production, as well as excessive concentration of its resources in rice cultivation. This, however, does not simply mean that Japan should abandon domestic agricultural production and depend more on imports. In addition to imports, Japan should initiate various initiatives to redevelop Japanese agriculture in the context of the market economy.

As an example of such initiatives, speakers at the Awaji Conference introduced a project to export high-quality and expensive brand fruits and rice to neighboring Asian countries, which currently enjoy economic booms. Other initiatives introduced at the Conference included Gifu Prefecture's project to grow organic soybeans in Argentina by purchasing farmland there and to import the products to Japan; the "Tasty Rice Campaign," a grassroots rice cultivation support campaign initiated in Hyogo Prefecture and subsequently diffused nationwide, and a project to produce lettuce by hydroponic culture with advanced technologies. The last project, conducted by a manufacturing enterprise, has been designed to integrate agriculture and manufacturing.

As international economic frameworks, the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) are particularly worthy of attention. WTO's attempt to establish a universal free trade system has lost momentum because a common platform for the universal system has not yet reached a mature stage. In contrast, FTA/EPA systems seek trade liberation and collaboration between specific countries while allowing exceptions of a few items that are extremely sensitive, politically. Efforts should be made to conclude FTAs even with countries whose products, particularly agricultural products, have conflicting interests. To this end, we must control political influence of interest groups.

Japan's Roles

Even though the triple burden of poor nutrition (hunger, micronutrient deficiencies and obesity) is widespread in today's world, Japan is one of the countries that are most free from this triple burden. Japan even presents a model of healthy dietary habits. In addition, Japan has played an essential role in improving rice and wheat varieties, contributing to world agriculture with its advanced technologies.

Today, 800 million people in the world are starving. Japan, having assisted in the industrialization of East Asian countries, should continue its efforts in international cooperation. Together with other East Asian countries that are enjoying rapid economic growth, Japan should assist many countries from Central Asia to the Sub Sahara, whose economies are at the merge of bankruptcy, providing cooperation in agriculture, human resource development and, if possible, construction of industrial facilities. Above all, Japan should support countries struggling in peace-building and social reconstruction against the backdrop of the lingering effect of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Only such efforts can guide 21st century human society in the right direction. In addition, such efforts are essential for sustaining Japan's national security and prosperity.

From this perspective, it is deplorable that hindered by problems of the past, current Japanese political leaders are unable to cooperate even with leaders of our neighborhood countries. We, participants in the Awaji Conference, firmly believe that Japanese political leaders should take the initiative in developing solid national and international strategies for promoting agriculture and securing food, seeking opportunities in radical changes in Asia, promoting the formation of the Asian regional community in joint efforts with other Asian countries, and exerting international leadership in providing joint support to the countries that need assistance. If the Japanese government fails to show leadership in these initiatives, we hereby declare that the private sector and local governments should act for the national government.

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