Connecting Japan’s Farmers to the World In Support of Sustainable Agriculture


I want to be the most influential farmer in the world.

The first step is for me to become the most influential farmer in my native Japan.

As farmers, we are professional businessmen and women who produce the food our families, communities, and the world needs. To support my work as a Japanese farmer, I recently founded the Japan Biotech Crop Network. Our mission is to build a stable and sustainable supply of food and feed for our country while reducing the burden that agriculture puts on the environment. We will accomplish this through honest conversations about sound science and smart technology, leading to policy recommendations that serve the long-term interests of farmers and consumers.

Unlike many farmers, I haven’t spent my life in food production. I’ve worked as a firefighter, a singer, and an information-technology professional. In 2008, I was on the board of an IT venture company in Tokyo when the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers sent shock waves through the global economy.

That experience convinced me to reorganize my life. Rather than immersing myself in the intangibles of the IT industry, I wanted to create tangible value from scratch with my own business. Around the same time, I had a child—and began to think hard about the food that we eat and the future in which my children will live.

So, I became a farmer, and today I grow paddy rice, feed corn, soybeans, buckwheat, and more near the city of Tottori. (Here’s a video of me on my farm last month, as a tractor forms a hard-packed retaining wall to conserve water.)

As I moved into agriculture, I noticed that populist politics and scientific illiteracy affect farming in profound ways—and make it harder for Japan to grow the food that it needs. Too many policies are the result of what sounds popular to the non-farming public rather than what makes sense for the good of the nation, and many of these blunders depend on low levels of education and scientific knowledge.

Because of this, Japan has resisted technological developments that have improved food security in many other nations. I saw this firsthand at a meeting of international farmers in Argentina, sponsored earlier this year by the Global Farmer Network. As we visited hugely successful farms, I saw how GMOs have helped my fellow farmers fight pests, weeds, and disease to grow more food. I also saw how GMOs in conjunction with no-till methods and cover crops protected the environment and contributed to sustainability.

On returning home, I began to question Japan’s longstanding resistance to GMOs like never before.

If we want our agricultural system to provide high-quality food at reasonable prices in a way that respects the environment, we need to reject non-science-based ideology and embrace safe technology. Time and again, the studies of our own government have shown that GMOs present no risk to human health or biodiversity.

I’m hopeful that the Japanese public will become more accepting of GMOs, but I’m especially heartened by the rise of gene-edited crops, sometimes called new genomic techniques, or NGTs. This different approach to biotechnology presents Japan with a breakthrough opportunity to welcome the latest advances in crop science.

A few gene-edited products are already on the market. With time, people will get used to them and recognize that they can become a part of a healthy and nutritious diet and will specifically request them.

Demographic factors also may play a role. The population of Japan is aging. This is driven partly by the fact that people are living longer, which is good, but mostly by declining birthrates, which is bad. This has enormous implications for the economics of agriculture, as some farmers quit the business and fewer children want to take up the occupations of their ancestors.

The future of farming in Japan therefore is large-scale and liquid, as smaller numbers of farmers will take on the obligation of overseeing more agriculture land. This new generation will push for productivity by taking advantage of safe technologies while also committing to sustainable practices.

They’re going to need my new group, the JBCN.

We’re ready to improve agriculture in Japan—and if we can lead the way here, we can lead the whole world.

Shuichi Tokumoto

Shuichi Tokumoto

Shuichi Tokumoto produces rice, beans and corn on 1,000 hectares. Having been introduced to GM crop systems and new seed coating technology, he plans to use sustainable practices to grow GM crops with an emphasis on environmentally friendly agriculture. He serves as representative director, Agricultural Corporation Tree & Norf Company.

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