I have been working closely with members of the Nagano Agriculture and Food Association (NAGANO農と食の会) and Food Policy Council Obuse (OBUSE食と農の未来会議) for almost a year now, discussing ways to envision sustainable food futures and enact food policy toward their realization. One refreshing aspect of working with these groups is that the concept of agroecology widely understood and the need to enact agroecological food systems is a given. However, even though Nagano Prefecture is one of the leading agricultural prefectures in Japan, organic agriculture and agroecology are not widely practiced or recognized. When we learned of the possibility of bringing Miguel Altieri and Clara Nicholls (University of California-Berkeley) to Nagano to speak at a public event, everyone jumped at the chance. In a matter of just a few weeks, and with an incredible effort in planning and organization by the Nagano Agriculture and Food Association, Nagano Prefecture Organic Agriculture Association (長野県有機農業研究会), and Food Policy Council Obuse, the “International Symposium on Sustainable Agriculture: Voices from Shinshu, The Transition to Organic Agriculture starts from Nagano!” was held on June 2nd, 2019. Some 220 participants attended the event, including many farmers. We filmed the talks, so if you are interested in hearing the presentations, click on the links below.
The symposium began with an opening address by the Director of the Nagano Prefecture Organic Agriculture Association, Takuei Katsuyama, who spoke of the progress that Nagano has made toward implementing organic agriculture, in large part by the efforts of his association. Next, I gave my introduction on the need to move away from industrial agriculture, and all of the climate, biodiversity, and public health problems associated with it, to agroecological food systems. Nagano Prefecture is actually in a strong position to become a model for the rest of Japan in this regard. The prefecture has been recognized as a SDGs Future City (SDGs未来都市) by the Japanese Government and are also implementing an ethical consumption campaign. But so much more is needed. I proposed a number of food policy options to realize environmental protection, food sovereignty and security, local food economies, and self-reliance. See the Table 1 below for the results of a survey of participants on their receptiveness to these food policy options. Support for these policy ideas was around 90% for all options surveyed.
After that, Miguel Altieri gave his keynote address on why the world and Japan need agroecology. He started from the notion that agroecology is a confluence of both scientific and traditional knowledge and introduced a number of examples from all around the world of agroecological farming practices in traditional farming systems, including rice production with animal species, multi-cropping, and rotational farming. There were countless examples demonstrating how agroecological principles are being enacted on a variety of farms to deal with pests and weeds, improve soil fertility, cycle nutrients, and improve yields and crop health. Some of the most powerful stories were from Cuba, a country that converted most of its agriculture to agroecology after the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent loss of access to fossil-fuels. Urban and peri-urban farms and gardens embraced agroecology and continue to produce food for the entire country. Finally, Miguel spoke of the importance of peasant-to-peasant movements to share knowledge and disseminate appropriate technology, organize politically in social movements, and increase food sovereignty around the world.
Next, Kae Sekine (Aichi Gakuen University) gave a video address on the UN Decade of Family Farming and the importance of supporting family farming through public procurement schemes and direct purchasing. She gave the example of the French school lunch system shifting to organic food produced by local farmers. In Normandy, for example, 100% of school lunches are procured from local organic farmers.
Finally, a diverse group of women engaged with food and agriculture as farmers, researchers, city councilors, and media gathered on stage to discuss their experiences and viewpoints on the future of food and agriculture. Clara Nicholls (University of California-Berkeley and President of the Latin America Scientific Society of Agroecology) shared her experiences researching agriculture with Latin American peasants. She emphasized the importance of building autonomy at the farm and community level and encouraged the young farmers in the audience to develop food economies of solidarity to promote the principles of agroecology and ensure stable livelihoods as food producers. Erika Saito (Organic farmer in Matsumoto) told her story of arriving at organic farming from her experiences working in Africa. She highlighted the need for more support for new farmers to enable them to continue agriculture in rural Japan and the role that her local community played in supporting her farming. Ryoko Matsuno (City councilor for Ikeda Town) is a newly elected city councilor and argued for the need to promote organic agriculture and eliminate GMO food from the menus of school lunches in her town. She plans on implementing local policies to achieve public procurement of organic food. Mika Tsutsumi (Journalist & author) made a late arrival to the stage, but had an immediate impact. She is a famous author of many bestselling books that focus on issues such as corporate globalization, and international trade and politics. In the panel, she shared her story about experiencing 9-11 while in New York and how it moved her away from the world of business and finance, to social advocacy. She argued for consumers to become better informed and “vote with their shopping” to achieve a more sustainable and just food system.
Overall, the symposium was a great success and, we hope, helped to promote agroecological production in Nagano and set an agenda for local food policy in the region. I’d like to thank the tremendous efforts of our colleagues in Nagano Agriculture and Food Association, Nagano Prefecture Organic Agriculture Association, and Food Policy Council Obuse as well as all of the other supporting organizations.
<Organizers> Nagano Prefecture Organic Agriculture Association, the NAGANO Agriculture and Food Association, Food Policy Council OBUSE, Suzaka-shi Kankyou Hozengata Nougyou no Kai, FEAST Project-Research Institute for Humanity and Nature
<Supporters> Nagano Prefecture, Nihon no Tane wo Mamoru Kai, Small and Family Farming Network Japan, NPO Midori no Shimin, Kodomo no Shoku Nou wo Mamoru Kai-Inabe, Saku-shi Organic Agriculture Research Association, Research Institute of Japanese Rural Medicine
You can also find the event-related information and resources from the links below.
●Event info (in Japanese)：Nagano Agriculture and Food Association Facebook
●Online report (in Japanese)：“Tsutaeru Shoku to Nou Link Net Shinshu”, on information paper on Nagano’s food and agriculture
●Video clips (in English and Japanese)
⓵Video 1 (Opening by Takuei Katsuyama, Introduction by Steven McGreevy, & Keynote by Miguel Altieri)
②Video 2 (Video address by Kae Sekine, Part I of the panel discussion)
③Video 3 (Part II of the panel discussion)
●Event leaflet (in English and Japanese)：Download