Five years later: Japan responds to Fukushima and rural crisis with the 2016 Kyoto Agroecology Declaration

It is in such times of crisis that apparently radical solutions make common sense.

In 2011 the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami killed 16,000 people and caused nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Even today radiation still affects large tracts of agricultural land and water resources, and fears remain about the safety of consuming Japanese foods including fish, fruit and the prized Wagyu beef. Greenpeace reports radioactivity continues to enter coastal ecosystems through contaminated watersheds and is carried downstream to the Pacific Ocean.[i]

Many people remain displaced and those who have returned to temporary housing report the breakdown of communities built on agricultural production.[ii]

In 2016, five years after the Fukushima disaster, farmers, academics, civil society groups and eaters converged on the Small-Scale Economies Project of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto, Japan, to discuss agroecology as a way to create a more sustainable and resilient food system.

The outcome was the Kyoto Agroecology Declaration, a roadmap based on the key principles of agroecology – diversity, networking and sovereignty.[iii]

Agroecology, defined by Frances Moore Lappè as “a set of farming practices aligned with nature and embedded in more balanced power relationships” provides a viable alternative to the industrial food system, one that provides healthy, accessible food, protection to ecosystems and human dignity.[iv]

Japan’s strong grassroots organic movement has provided the foundation for an agroecology movement that has become more urgent following food safety scares, the decline of rural lifestyles and increasing income disparity exacerbated by disasters such as Fukushima.

It is in such times of crisis that apparently radical solutions make common sense. The Declaration calls for ‘action plans’ to “restore the resilient human-environmental interactions and foster long-term sustainability” by developing local food systems that depend less on external inputs – including nuclear energy. [v]

Further, the Declaration recommends the promotion of local and environmentally sound market systems that operate independently of transnational corporations to rebuild the rural-urban linkages that are being decimated in Japan, as in many developed economies.

An important emphasis in the Declaration is on enhancing the participation of women and youth through research and education programs as part of the “democratisation” of the production, distribution and consumption of healthy food.

When visiting Kyoto last June, following the signing of the Declaration, a friend alerted me to the heath crisis facing her nation.

‘Middle Food’ – the heavily processed and packaged food one eats between home and work – is contributing to a decline in the quality of the Japanese diet, once heralded for its health benefits. Today, many Japanese people eat a Western-style breakfast and lunch. The previous culinary isolation of Japan has also given way to transnational fast food companies, which we already know are contributing daily to the frightening statistic that by 2020 diet-related preventative diseases will account for nearly 75 per cent of deaths, worldwide.[vi]

With the Kyoto 2016 Agrecology Declaration Japan joins an international movement of organisations like the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) focused on reclaiming sovereignty over our local food production and our bodies. As defined in the Declaration, “the concept of sovereignty here refers to the autonomy of food production, energy self-sufficiency and technological independence at the local and regional level”, something that small-scale farmers, and the survivors of Fukushima, are desperate to recapture.

[i] http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/press/releases/2016/Fukushima-nuclear-disaster-will-impact-forests-rivers-and-estuaries-for-hundreds-of-years-warns-Greenpeace-report-/

[ii] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-11/5th-anniversary-tsunami-farming-in-japan/7239188

[iii] Kyoto 2016 Agroecology Declaration http://www.chikyu.ac.jp/fooddiversity/achievements/file/Declaration_eng.pdf

[iv] https://www.grain.org/bulletin_board/entries/5457-farming-for-a-small-planet-agroecology-now

[v] Kyoto 2016 Agroecology Declaration

[vi] http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/langlo/PIIS2214-109X%2814%2970381-X.pdf

Dr. Alana Mann (@alana_mann) is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney and is involved in SEI’s Food, People and the Planet node.She is the author of ‘Global Activism in Food Politics’.

Photo: Alana Mann