100 tons of Fukushima rice to be exported to Malaysia per year

24 August 2017

By Naoyuki Saito

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori agreed in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 23 with a Malaysian importer and other parties on the annual supply of 100 tons of the “Koshihikari” variety of rice produced in Fukushima Prefecture, starting with this year’s harvest. Japanese rice exports to Malaysia usually reach around 150 tons a year. If the agreed shipments are realized, Fukushima rice is expected to constitute close to half of upcoming total exports, making the prefecture the largest Japanese regional rice exporter to the Southeast Asian country.

Also agreed was 15-ton annual supply of Fukushima peaches to Malaysia, almost double the past level. Coupled with the rice accord, the prefectural government is aiming at boosting farm produce exports, with fast growing Southeast Asian economies as the foothold, amid lingering negative rumors at home and abroad over the safety of Fukushima food stemming from the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Negotiations for the rice deal were conducted behind closed doors except for the outset at a hotel in the Malaysian capital. Under the agreement, the Fukushima prefectural headquarters of the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh) will act as the shipper while Okinawa Food Co., a rice wholesaler in Urasoe, Okinawa Prefecture, will mill Fukushima brown rice for export, targeting 100 tons a year. Undertaking sales in Malaysia will be rice importer and wholesaler Edaran Komachi Sdn. Bhd.

At a press conference after the talks, Edaran gave high marks to Fukushima’s tests for radioactive content in all bags of all harvested rice, efforts to thoroughly improve paddy field soil, and the “Special A” taste ranking given to Fukushima’s 2016 crop of Koshihikari rice by the Japan Grain Inspection Association.

Okinawa Food began to trade Fukushima rice in 1982 when output of the grain fell short of demand due to damage from cold weather. The company exported 12 tons of Fukushima rice to Malaysia in partnership with Edaran in 2015, marking the first rice shipment to the country from the prefecture. Against this backdrop, Okinawa Food played the role of a go-between in the latest rice deal.

In the forthcoming rice shipments to Malaysia, Okinawa Food will use its proprietary technology to prevent degradation of milled rice by injecting carbon dioxide into each package. The company and Fukushima are arranging to use this year’s Koshihikari crops mainly from the prefecture’s Aizu and Nakadori regions for export.

“We’ve got understanding of our rice being the safest and tastiest in Japan,” Uchibori said following the business meeting. “This will be a great opportunity for our rice farmers to recover their pride.” Akmal Abu Hassan, managing director of Tokyo-based MHC Co. promoting halal food in Japan and founder of Edaran, said he “would like to contribute to people in Fukushima” who have been affected by the nuclear disaster.

Malaysia’s imports of rice from Japan have been growing year after year on the back of booming appetite for “washoku” (Japanese cuisine). Edaran, which imported 12 tons of Fukushima rice in 2015, saw the volume rise to 29 tons between May and July this year, selling them to 50 local firms. The company intends to import 20 tons per month, or more than 200 tons a year, in the future.

The press conference was also attended by Toru Nakamura , senior managing director of Okinawa Food, Koji Inomata , head of Zen-Noh’s Fukushima headquarters, and Ajwad Abu Hassan, managing director of Edaran.

■Fukushima peach exports to double to 15 tons

Uchibori agreed with a Malaysian food trading company, JMG Trading Sdn. Bhd., as well as with Zen-Noh’s Fukushima headquarters in another round of negotiations for peach trade at the same hotel. Both sides agreed on the peach supply deal targeting 15 tons, more than double the fiscal 2016 level of about 7 tons. Fukushima is scheduled to ship the first batch comprising “Kawanakajima” and other peach brands in September via Yokohama port.

At the advice of the prefectural government this summer, JMG introduced for the first time “controlled atmosphere” (CA) freight containers aboard cargo ships that permit long-term maintenance of product quality, enabling transportation in greater amounts and at lower costs than airlifting. At the press conference, JMG Managing Director Atsushi Miyakawa said the adoption of CA containers “has led to a cost cut of around 300 yen per peach.”

The prefectural government, the Zen-Noh Fukushima headquarters and other parties concerned have concentrated their energies on the promotion of exports to Southeast Asian countries that eased restrictions on Fukushima products earlier than other parts of the world, while import curbs remain in place for a prolonged period in Taiwan, Hong Kong and other former main markets before the nuclear accident.

(Translated by Kyodo News)