It’s time for Nepal to adapt to organic farmingFollowing in the furrows of his father and grandfather, Japanese national Shinzo Tanabe, 47, has been working in organic farming for 24 years now.
Following in the furrows of his father and grandfather, Japanese national Shinzo Tanabe, 47, has been working in organic farming for 24 years now. Tanabe initially had no idea how beneficial organic produce could be for the consumer’s health, but once he started farming, he learned how pesticides and certain kinds of fertilisers can do more harm than good. Tanabe started out with 16 ropanis of land in Hiroshima, Japan where his family had long been growing organic vegetables. He eventually expanded that with 60 more ropanis from his neighbourhood on lease, which he currently uses for paddy farming. His organic farming practices have since brought him global recognition and Tanabe-san is often invited as a speaker for various programmes organised by local farmer groups where he shares his experiences and expertise. During a visit to Chautara, Sindhupalchowk to interact with local farmers and share the importance of organic farming, Tanabe spoke to the Post’s Bibhu Luitel about the Tanabe farm and impressions he’s taking back from the Nepali agriculture scene. Excerpts:
Can you tell us a little bit about your organic farming practices in Japan?
Only about 0.2 percent of agricultural practice is organic in Japan, which unfortunately is very small compared to other countries. And this percentage is on the verge of declining further. Other countries have been investing greatly in organic farming but Japan lags far behind. The media, however, will tell you that organic farming is growing in Japan. I am based in Hiroshima, one of the cities destroyed by the atomic bombs during the Second World War. I have been working closely with the prefectural government to develop organic farming in Hiroshima so that all other 46 prefectures get inspired by ours.
We’ve learned that you grow produce according to demand. What does that mean?
I have taken into account how many households I can impact with my produce. I know what they need from my farm. So, I grow my crops accordingly. But people from other cities have also started buying organic produces from my farm. They send me the estimated details of their required quantity and that helps me plan what I need to grow beforehand.
What is mostly in demand?
From basics like radish, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and spinach to some modified crops are in major demand. I plan the necessities and grow what customers need. A total of 30 different types of produces are grown on my farm.
What is the scope of organic produce in Japan? Do consumers prefer organic over others?
The Japanese are fond of healthy food. Just because organic products are produced in smaller quantities does not mean it has lost its scope. In fact, I see the scope of organic farming more than anything else in Japan. Anyone willing to try their hands in this business can undoubtedly succeed. Besides that, Japan has the capability to bring in a large number of tourists every year, flourishing its organic farming techniques. According to what I have seen, many tourists who come to Japan from different countries prefer organically grown vegetables and crops over others. If they see some restaurants selling organic food, they choose them.
Do you think there is a potential for organic farming in Nepal?
It is time for Nepal to completely adapt to proper organic farming. I see many youths in Nepal who are interested in agriculture and look forward to doing something different. This is where they can put in the work. With the potential of growing a variety of crops in your country, you can definitely consider going organic wherever possible. I have interacted with a number of farmers and farming enthusiasts here in Nepal.
And their interest towards organic farming is really praiseworthy.
They are looking forward to making changes and I think that is vital.
There are already small-scale organic farms in Nepal. How can they scale-up effectively?
Like I already said, Nepal has a huge potential to adapt to organic farming. Farming industries, no matter how small or big, just need vision.
And I think most farmers here have good vision. I see many farmers who want to bring changes to their communities. They are on the right track. All they need to think about is sustainability. If they start taking that factor into consideration, they can scale-up not just effectively, but also massively.
What kinds of produce do you think is ideally suited to the Nepali climate?
As I have learned about your environment, traditions and landscapes, what Nepalis have been growing is perfectly suited here. I have observed that you grow crops like paddy, wheat, maize, and mustard according to seasons. Seasonal vegetables also seem to be in practice. You can give continuity to this.
Nepal already imports a lot of food. Should we invest in traditional agriculture to meet our food needs or go organic?
You import because you are unaware about your potential. You think you cannot grow. When you start considering imported food better than what you already grow, there can be no development. Nepal is capable of exporting food. This is where farmers and concerned authorities should put their money in, considering it to be an investment, not expenditure. You can choose between any of the two options but I would suggest you to invest more in organic food.