Fukushima's Futaba area eyed as banana-planting hub, Tokyo Olympics seen as chance for publicity

A group of farmers based in Koriyama city, Fukushima Prefecture, is moving to grow bananas in the Futaba district comprising six towns and two villages. JA Fukushima Sakura, a local chapter of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) organization, held a briefing session in Koriyama on Jan. 9 to urge prospective banana farmers to participate in the project. The group's plan calls for the district to be developed as a banana production center, establish the tropical fruit as a local specialty brand, help promote the recovery of agriculture devastated by the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant, and draw worldwide attention to post-disaster reconstruction by supplying locally produced bananas during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The group is seeking to introduce a special banana species resistant to cold weather, developed by an agricultural corporation in Okayama Prefecture, western Japan. The rare banana variety, based on a "freeze-thaw awakening" method, has been born out of a breed with improved resistance to a cold climate. It features fast growth, taking six to nine months to harvest when it normally requires a year. Another attractive element is that its skin is edible. JA Fukushima Sakura will solicit participation of farmers seeking to resume agriculture in the district or those intending to boost profit by converting paddy fields into other crops. The group is considering beginning experimental planting as early as this year. It also expects to contribute to reducing swollen deserted farmland. According to JA Fukushima Sakura, most bananas distributed in Japan are imports, prompting the group to choose the fruit for cultivation due to the presence of few competing production areas elsewhere in the country, among other reasons. Another factor is the prospect of high prices expected in trading in the market as banana output has plummeted globally in main producer countries such as the Philippines because of a rampant new strain of the Panama disease, a fungus-caused wilt. (Translated by Kyodo News)