As representatives of the SGRA project (Supporting Grass-Roots Activities through the International Employers’ and Workers’ Network) in northeastern Thailand, JILAF’s Thailand Office has been supporting a group pf rice-growing farmers (30 people) in Khon Kaen Province since fiscal 2014. Until now this support has involved the building of safety nets and the strengthening of mutual-aid schemes through, among other things, social insurance subscriptions, the promotion of organic rice, and the establishment of a savings fund. Independence has been encouraged by bolstering mutual assistance through the establishment in fiscal 2017 of Thailand’s first fire mutual-aid insurance (providing condolence money at the time of fire) and gaining cooperation from the municipal government office (for the free use of municipal government office facilities and agricultural land).
Efforts had been made to introduce the SGRA project to private companies as well, and in fiscal 2018 President Masao Inoue of Adovonext Co., Ltd. proposed a plan to cultivate Japanese rice. That was the start of the Japanese rice project, which has got off the ground thanks to not only the efforts of JILAF but also cooperation from private companies (Adovonext and Obuli Co., Ltd.), the Lam Nam Phong city hall in Thailand, and the Faculty of Agriculture of Khon Kaen University.
Actual cultivation began in fiscal 2019. First of all, as a trial, one field of 2 rai (1 rai is the equivalent of 1,600 sq. meters) was divided into three plots, and comparable cultivation began using different fertilizer in each plot. The place of cultivation was chosen in July, followed by soil preparation and seed scattering in December, rice planting in January, and harvesting, drying, threshing, and polishing in April 2020.
From now on, with financial assistance from private companies in Japan, efforts will be made to further improve the quality of the Japanese rice and expand production. In the future, it is hoped that the project will grow and generate profits for not only the group members themselves but also nearby rice farmers, other regions in Thailand, and SGRA members in other countries.
Why Japanese Rice?
Although the Japanese food market is shrinking, the worldwide food market was expected to double from 340 trillion yen in 2009 to 680 trillion yen in 2020 due to increased consumption and an increase in the number of wealthy people, especially in newly emerging economies. Amid this global trend, the food market in Asia in particular, including countries like China and India, was expected to significantly grow by about three times from around 82 trillion yen in 2009 to 229 trillion yen in 2020.1
Furthermore, the number of Japanese restaurants around the world (excluding Japan) increased by about three times over six years from 55,000 in 2013 to 156,000 in 2019. In Asia alone, the number of Japanese restaurants rose by 1.5 times in two years from 2017.2 Thus, demand for high-quality Japanese rice has become steady and is expected to further increase in the future. Given this trend, moves to produce Japanese rice have accelerated around the world, and production has already begun in Southeast Asia, the United States, and Europe.
In addition to this growth of demand worldwide, it is hoped that the establishment and branding of Khon Kaen as a production center of high-quality Japanese rice will lead to increased income for agricultural workers.
1. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, Introduction to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (October 2015)
2. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, Results of Survey on the Number of Japanese Restaurants Overseas (2019)
There are four main challenges for the future development of the Japanese rice project: (1) tapping sales routes; (2) realizing the production of better quality and higher-priced Japanese rice through quality improvement; (3) promoting the lateral dissemination of this high quality to other SGRA members in the group; and (4) promoting automation and the stabilization of quality required by increased production.
After the achievement of these goals, it should be possible to disseminate the project to SGRA members in other parts of Thailand and then to SGRA members in other countries.
In fiscal 2020 efforts were made to achieve the first two goals of tapping sales routes and improving quality by holding meetings with related persons toward realizing the production of better quality and higher-priced Japanese rice and by promoting sales to agents and Japanese restaurants in Bangkok.
The SGRA project, including this Japanese rice project, is supported by cooperation from many parties, including private companies. JILAF will continue efforts to further develop the project with help from these sympathetic parties.