Though many storefronts across Japan still sport the popular encouragement, “Hang in there, Tohoku (northern Japan)!”, rice farmers in the north continue to face dismal sales due to public fears of radiation poisoning. High soil salinity dealt a blow to production itself, as rice cannot tolerate salt-saturated land. In the wake of the tsunami, what steps are farmers in affected areas taking to rebuild, literally, from the ground up?
Let’s provide some background to current agricultural problems. On March 11, 2011, northern Japan’s east coast endured a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and a subsequent tsunami, which carried 133-ft. waves up to 6 miles inland. Because of the influx of ocean water, areas which largely escaped radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster are still dealing with salt left by tsunami waters. Some rice farmers have turned to a new crop to make use of salty soils: cotton.
The Tohoku Cotton Project is an ambitious way for Tohoku farmers to stand back up on their own two feet. Though cotton production has long been outsourced to places such as Southeast Asia, the Tohoku Cotton Project has teamed up with companies like Japan Airlines and Lee Jeans to ensure that cotton grown in the Tohoku region is purchased, even at twice the market price.
Areas confronting radiation woes without any salt damage face their own set of problems. While removing surface soil is considered effective in cutting down on radiation levels, this procedure is costly in both currency and plant nutrients. One farmer, Toshihiko Ito, experimented and found that sprinkling fields with Zeolite, a powder used at the Fukushima reactor site to keep irradiated materials from contaminating the ocean, brought the radiation level of brown rice down to practically nothing. Seaweed used in a similar way also reduced rice radiation levels, though to a lesser extent.
Lastly, on a more whimsical note, the Japanese government has teamed up with corporations like Panasonic to test-drive robotic farming in tsunami-affected areas. Japan’s “Dream Project” will have robotic tractors planting and harvesting 600-acres of land.
Clearly, all ideas are on the table as northeastern Japan arguably faces its greatest crisis since WWII. Whether these ideas prove viable in the long run yet remains to be seen. However, we can be certain that, if nothing else, innovative ideas are something that Japan has no lack of.
For ways to help the Tohoku Cotton Project, please visit <http://www.tohokucotton.com/en/>.
For ways to support your own local produce farmers, please see <http://www.localharvest.org/>.