With the Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform, announced in June 2018, the cabinet of PM Abe Shinzō unveiled plans to admit lower-skilled foreign workers in industries facing acute labor shortages, including agriculture.
Japan’s struggling farm industry really needs this policy shift. But new immigration laws cannot guarantee the future of Japanese farming unless accompanied by efforts to boost productivity and ensure decent labor and living conditions.
Small-scale family farms dominated Japanese agriculture for most of the postwar era, but the industry’s structure is changing rapidly. Farmers have been retiring in ever-growing numbers, often without successors. In an effort to sustain and revitalize the industry, the government has actively encouraged the consolidation of farmland under the management of business-oriented operators.
In the past decade, Japan’s population of self-employed farmers engaged mainly in farming has dropped from more than 2 million to just over 1.5 million (as of 2017). While the majority of Japanese farms are still family owned and operated, corporate farming is on the rise.
This trend has been accompanied by an increase in the number of permanent farm employees (as opposed to family members and part-time or seasonal workers). The number of such employees rose from 180,000 in 2011 to 240,000 in 2017. Yet many more farm workers are needed to sustain the rise of large-scale corporate farming.
According to the council. Consisting of the Japan Agricultural Corporations Association and other key industry players, including the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives group, restructuring of the farm sector has outpaced the capacity of producers to recruit Japanese workers.
Nippon.com talks of estimates that the current labor shortage amounts to about 70,000 full-time employees and predicts that the unmet demand will swell to 130,000 over the next five years.