Food Security During the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic in Japan

Author: Yudai Kaneda (Johnny Yudai Schwarz)

December 4, 2021


This article will focus on food security issues in Japan, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) define food security as "the daily preparation for emergencies by considering measures to secure food supplies and how they can be flexibly activated in case of unexpected factors affecting food supplies."1 Therefore, in Japan, it is considered part of economic security under this principle. However, internationally, it is often considered as a part of compound human achievement according to the definition by the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity has emerged as a global humanitarian crisis. The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the world is facing a "hunger pandemic," suggesting that the number of individuals suffering from acute hunger could double by the end of 2020, affecting 265 million people worldwide.2, 3 Particularly, this food insecurity has become greater among low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), where food insecurity was already a serious concern before the COVID-19 pandemic.4


However, even for Japan as a developed country, food security is actually a severe issue. Notably, the state of emergency due to infection control measures caused a decrease in demand for foods services, which greatly affected the consumption of agricultural products. According to a survey conducted by the Japanese Finance Corporation (JFC) in January 2021, 64.6% of the responses from agricultural workers indicated that their sales were negatively affected by the spread of the emerging coronavirus infection.5 Although some industries, such as pig farming, had a higher percentage of "positive impact" (38.4%) than others, the majority of respondents indicated that sales were negatively impacted, with tea (90.1%) having the highest percentage, followed by beef cattle (86.2%) and flowers (74.2%).5 However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the production base of Japanese agriculture has become increasingly fragile. The food self-sufficiency rate for fiscal 2020, announced in August, was 37.17% on a calorie basis, the lowest on record, down from 37.37% in 1993, when a significant rice crop hit the country.1 In the "Basic Plan for Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas" formulated in March last year, the MAFF has set a target of increasing the calorie-based food self-sufficiency rate to 45% by 2030, but there is currently no way to achieve this goal.1 This may come as a surprise since Japan was ranked 8th out of 113 countries in the Global Food Security Index published annually by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the research arm of The Economist magazine in the UK, last year.6 However, there is a gap between this ranking and the reality.


Agriculture is an important industry that plays a significant role in food security, but I believe that it needs to be a self-sustainable industry to fulfill its purpose. Furthermore, since we do not know when the current COVID-19 pandemic will end, I think it is essential to develop new sales methods using the Internet and other means. In addition, I believe that only innovation in agriculture using Japan's advanced technologies such as IT and AI can provide the key to solving food security issues in Japan during this pandemic.


References

1. Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

2. COVID-19 will double number of people facing food crises unless swift action is taken.

3. WFP chief warns of ‘hunger pandemic’ as Global Food Crises Report launched.

4. 2020 GLOBAL REPORT ON FOOD CRISES.

5. Agribusiness Survey.

6. Performance of countries based on their 2021 food security score.

About the Author

Yudai Kaneda (Johnny Yudai Schwarz)

Born in Frauenfeld, Switzerland.

Half German and half Japanese, and currently a fourth-year medical student at Hokkaido University in Japan.

Since this September, has been studying at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, specializing in health policy and global health.

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