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HOME  > Past issues  > 2013 February 6 - 12  > Okinawa’s sugar cane farmers against TPP
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2013 February 6 - 12 TOP3 [ECONOMY]

Okinawa’s sugar cane farmers against TPP

February 10, 2013
Sugar cane is Okinawa’s main agricultural product, produced by 80% of local farmers on 47% of local farmland. Farmers in Ishigaki Island, one of the remote islands in Okinawa, are now busy harvesting sugar cane. They are very concerned about the government’s intention to take part in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade pact.

Jiroku Eiju, a 64-year-old farmer on Ishigaki Island, produces sugar cane and pineapple with his wife Sachiko. They harvest pineapple from April to August and sugar cane from December to March. “A greenhouse is necessary to grow pineapple in the winter months, but we have no funding to equip it. We cannot continue farming without sugar cane. It is an essential farm product for our island,” said Jiroku.

In Japan, 30% of sugar is domestically produced and 70% is imported. The Japanese government imposes a “tariff” on imported sugar to adjust the price gap between domestic and imported sugar. The revenue from the tariff is used to maintain the purchase price of domestic sugar cane at twenty and several thousand yen per ton. If Japan enters the TPP, which requires member nations to abolish their tariff barriers, this adjustment system would be removed as well.

The earnings from sugar cane in Ishigaki City in 2009 was 2.14 billion yen, the largest amount among agricultural goods, far exceeding the 250 million yen obtained from the second-ranked agricultural commodity, pineapple.

The sugar cane industry has a major impact on the island’s economy as the secondary and tertiary industries, such as processing, transportation, and sales, create 9 billion yen in revenues, 4 times more than from its initial production, which amounts to about 10% of the annual economic revenue of the island (95.7 billion yen in 2009).

Onaga Takao, representing the sugar cane farmers’ cooperative in Ishigaki City, said, “The local economy is centered on the production, processing, and sales of sugar cane. Tourism is also an important source of income. But if sugar cane production is destroyed, our beautiful scenery of farmland will be destroyed too, which would lead to a rapid decrease in tourists. In that sense, sugar cane is the treasure of our island.”

The Akaishi district, located on the north of Ishigaki Island, is an area developed by farmers who settled there from Okinawa’s mainland around 1955.

At that time, the production and canning of pineapple was the predominant job among the settlers. However, the liberalization of frozen pineapple imports in 1971 dealt a heavy blow to the local industry. “Men had to leave the island to find a job. I myself also worked at a car factory in Kanagawa Prefecture,” said Inoue Tomio, who moved to Ishigaki at the age of 13.

The administration then encouraged local farmers to engage in silk production, but that lasted only about 10 years until the liberalization of the trade in fibers.

Nakazato Takeshi, a 77-year-old farmer in the Akaishi district, said, “We have always suffered under the national government’s liberalization policies. The TPP would destroy local farming. We should never accept the treaty.”
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