TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Torrential rains in western Japan have caused heavy damage to the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries, with the agriculture ministry reporting the cost of the damage to have reached about 53 billion yen (S$642 million).
The reported figure has doubled since July 13 and could grow significantly, as only confirmed damaged has been reported thus far. The government has started to earnestly address the damage by offering support to agricultural enterprises, among other measures.
According to data released on Tuesday (July 17) by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, the damage totalled 2.8 billion yen for agricultural crops and other commodities, and 22.2 billion yen for farmland and agricultural facilities.
However, the entire scope of the damage caused by the rains has yet to be determined. The prices of vegetables grown outdoors, such as cucumbers, long green onions and okra, have already risen, the ministry said.
Support measures adopted by the government include the provision of interest-free loans to agriculture, forestry and fisheries enterprises for five years, and requests to financial institutions for a moratorium on debt payments by disaster victims.
Similar disasters have caused extensive damage in recent years.
In 2017, torrential rains in northern Kyushu caused about 112.2 billion yen in damage, while flooding in the Kii region in 2011 caused losses of about 145.3 billion yen.
The rains in western Japan directly struck fruit and vegetable production sites, leaving farmers devastated.
Specialty products such as mikan oranges, grapes and peaches are grown over a long period, and require mild weather and dry land.
Six of 11 mikan farms owned by a 55-year-old farmer from the Yoshidacho district of Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture, were covered by landslides and filled with sand and earth.
"Even if I wanted to go to the mountain, that wouldn't be possible," he said. "I can't do anything. I have to abandon production this year."
Around this time of year, mikan producers spray disinfectant onto their crops about once every 20 days to prevent a disease that blackens the fruits' skin. However, the sprinklers were uprooted by landslides, which also buried the roads leading to his farms. As a result, he cannot bring in machines and equipment.
Ehime Prefecture, called the "citrus kingdom", is a major producer of mikan in Japan. The Yoshidacho district is said to be the birthplace of the Ehime mikan, which was first cultivated towards the end of the Edo period (1603-1867).
According to the agriculture ministry, mikan production in Ehime Prefecture totalled 120,300 tons in 2017, second only to Wakayama Prefecture, which produced 144,200 tons. Production in Uwajima accounts for about 30 per cent of all mikan output in Ehime Prefecture.
The 22-year-old eldest son of the farmer from Uwajima returned home last year to take over his father's mikan farms. Once mikan saplings are planted, six to eight years pass before they yield fruit that can be shipped. With this in mind, the farmer planted 20 saplings of a new variety this spring. However, the farms with the new saplings were inundated with earth and sand.
Meanwhile, in the Mabicho district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, where many houses were flooded, torrential rains damaged the pione grapes grown by a 59-year-old part-time farmer just before they were to be shipped.
After the collapse of riverbanks along the Odagawa river, a tributary of the Takahashigawa river, his vinyl greenhouses about 300m from the Odagawa were flooded to the ceiling. The farmer had planned to begin shipping his pione grapes on July 13. Now, he will undershoot his projected yearly profit of about 4 million.
"I think I have to start removing the damaged grapes, but I can't bring myself to do that," he said as he looked at the badly damaged pione skins.
In 2015, Okayama Prefecture ranked first in terms of cultivation area for pione grapes at about 910 hectares and muscat grapes at about 60 hectares.
According to the prefectural government, about eight hectares of grape farms were damaged, of which 40 per cent were located in the Mabicho district. About 100 million yen in damage has been reported in the prefecture.