More Japanese women venturing into field of farming

About 2,000 to 3,000 women without agricultural backgrounds go into farimg every year.

Last December, Juri Nakai, 36, rented about 1,000 square meters of land and started farming in Mizuho, western Tokyo.

She grows a wide variety of vegetables, including Japanese mustard spinach and rocket, without using any agricultural chemicals or chemical fertilizers. She ships them to supermarkets and farm stands, as well as to a local kindergarten to be used in children's lunches.

Her unique efforts, such as shipping spinach in small bags so that consumers can enjoy it without worrying about leftovers, are well received by consumers.

"From the consumers' point of view, a woman's perspective can be advantageous in agriculture, too," she said.

There have recently been many women renting plots of land to farm, though they do not come from farming backgrounds.

The number of women entering this field is still relatively small, but those who do enter it seem to be attracted by a challenging job that is easily influenced by weather and other uncertain factors. This is in addition to the recent trend of more and more people coming to desire a more nature-oriented lifestyle.

Nakai became interested in farming when she was a high school student. Although she studied at the Junior College of the Tokyo University of Agriculture, after graduation, she became a company employee.

When she was 31, Nakai learned how to grow vegetables at a farm offering hands-on agricultural courses.

"The difficulties I faced when things didn't go as planned due to the weather and other factors made me feel like this is really interesting," she recalled.

Though concerned about whether she would be able to continue in the profession, she thought she would be able to increase yields, improve sales and make a living in agriculture by employing patience and creative methods.

After saving up ¥2.5 million (S$27,221) from her job, Nakai went on to receive agricultural training for 16 months from a farmer who was introduced to her via a consultation office for people wishing to begin farming.

Afterward, she found a plot in Mizuho. Her income is still low, so she compensates by helping out at other nearby farms.

She has not lost her enthusiasm, saying, "I want to increase the area of my land."

This spring, Eri Toyoda, 33, started working in agriculture by joining Earthwormers, an agricultural corporation that operates the Aiyo Farm in Togane, Chiba Prefecture.

Last July, while she was working as a company employee in Tokyo, she attended an agriculture-related business recruitment event.

"I really felt like this industry has a future," she said.

Toyoda learned about Earthwormers while studying at the agricultural business school Agri-Innovation College in Tokyo.

As well as the usual agricultural work, Toyoda is also involved in other general work, including shipping products to individual houses and restaurants and selling them at markets in urban areas.

"The growth of vegetables varies from day to day," Toyoda said. "There is no correct answer for effectively harvesting and packaging products - it's all about a trial and error, but it's fun trying different methods and finding the best one.

"It would be great if one day I could one day run a guest house where guests can enjoy meals cooked with vegetables that they harvest themselves."

Of the five employees at Earthwormers, Toyoda is the only woman.

"When I communicate with customers, a touch of female attentiveness is advantageous," its president, Yusuke Shino, said.

About 2,000 to 3,000 women without agricultural backgrounds go into farimg every year, according to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.

"We receive many inquiries from people in their 20s and 30s who are working," said Masatoshi Miyai at a consultation centre for new farmers set up by the National Chamber of Agriculture. "In recent years, due to increased awareness in terms of safety and security of the industry and the desire for a more nature-oriented lifestyle, we have also received inquiries from people hoping to start new cafes or restaurants using produce they grow themselves."

In 2013, women accounted for 34 per cent of farmers who entered agricultural corporations and 11 per cent of farmers who obtained their own land.

"Given the physical strength required in agriculture, many women feel uncertain about their prospects of making a living on their own just from farming. Some farmers even feel hesitant about leasing a plot of land to women," said Kyoko Saito, executive director of the Rural Women Empowerment and Life Improvement Association in Tokyo.

Juri Hara, a professor of rural sociology at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, states: "Quite often, women are better at selling and developing products using agricultural produce. If more agricultural corporations employ people based on their skills, irrespective of gender, there would be more women farmers in the industry."

High levels of contribution

Data shows that farms with women see an increase in sales, highlighting the fact that women make great contributions to farming. The government has high expectations that women in farming could help vitalize the farming industry.

Organisations with women in executive or managerial posts saw their sales increase by 23 per cent in three years, according to a 2012 survey by the Japan Finance Corporation on agricultural corporations and others that the JFC financed. The figure is higher than for companies without women in administrative posts - an average rise of 9.4 per cent.

Also in a 2010 survey by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, women were involved in farming at about 90 per cent of the farms and agricultural corporations that reported sales of agricultural products amounting to ¥10 million or more.

"Women possess a unique consumer perspective in the area of sales and product development, including label designs and price setting," a JFC official said.

In the last fiscal year, aiming to spread the trend, the agriculture ministry started a project to foster female operators in the farming business. This fiscal year, the ministry also plans to certify and give awards to agricultural corporations that concentrate on the active promotion of women farmers.Speech