Post-disaster rice planting seen ready in Namie town this spring, waterways restored

A rice-planting environment is expected to be restored this spring in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, where an evacuation order issued after the 2011 accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was lifted in parts of the town in March last year. Work to restore agricultural waterways undertaken by the municipal government since the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear disaster has made headway, raising the prospect of rice planting becoming possible in about 430 hectares of paddy fields, roughly a third of some 1,200 hectares cultivated before the nuclear mishap. But municipal officials are concerned about a shortage of rice farmers due to the absence of many residents still evacuated elsewhere. The town office is seeking to help resume rice farming by assisting the establishment of agricultural corporate entities and recruiting people interested in agriculture in an effort to encourage the permanent homecoming of evacuees and migration from outside. Expected to be ready for rice planting are seven districts in northern Namie: Tatsuno, Kariyado, Sakata, Fujihashi, Nishidai, Kitakiyohashi and Kitatanashio. Some waterways, including a trunk channel on the left bank of the Ukedo River and a canal in Tatsuno, both taking water from the Ogaki Dam, are set to be restored by the end of fiscal 2017 through March this year, ensuring the supply of agricultural water from fiscal 2018. In the Sakata and Kariyado districts where demonstration rice planting was conducted until 2017, water was supplied from wells and other sources. Namie intends to restore irrigation gradually with a view to resuming rice cultivation by the end of fiscal 2020 in the whole town except in “difficult-to-return” zones. Of 18,020 residents registered as of the end of December last year, only 482 have returned home for permanent residency. According to the Tohoku Regional Agricultural Administration Office of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, paddy fields in the town cultivated for harvesting in 2017 totaled 2.5 hectares, with five farming households engaging in rice planting. How to secure farmers is a challenge facing the town before full-fledged rice cultivation can be resumed. An agricultural reconstruction cooperative union is in place in each administrative district of Namie to preserve farmland after the nuclear accident. Municipal authorities are considering organizing study meetings and other events for farmers to encourage such unions to be incorporated and allow them to manage and operate farmland in a well-planned manner. “We would like to throw our full support behind farmers who are trying to stand on their own feet amid the difficult agricultural environment stemming from protracted evacuation,” a town official said. Namie also plans to conduct a nationwide survey of agricultural corporations within fiscal 2017 seeking to invite them to the town while launching a farming internship program in fiscal 2018 for townspeople interested in working as farmers. (Translated by Kyodo News)