The government must implement a comprehensive mechanism to help people transfer to other sectors, so that those with less efficient operations or who want to leave agriculture behind have more options, rather than just letting the smaller farms decline and disappear.
The solution to the dearth of farm labor involves more than simply bringing in more hands from overseas. The government needs to decide first the direction of the industry’s future development and then prepare a comprehensive plan. There are some ways the government can lead.
It can, for example, try to improve work, living and training conditions to challenge the popular belief among young graduates that working in agriculture is only a last resort.
It could improve agriculture training for women in rural communities, so that they could become involved in harvesting, processing, storing, selling and marketing agricultural products, incorporating agricultural reform concepts initially developed in Japan: that of the “sextiary industry.”
The sextiary industry concept refers to farms that are also involved in processing and selling what they grow or raise, and therefore covers more than one sector. With this in mind, they could bring together farming and leisure farms — with hospitality and catering — to create new jobs that are more in line with the dynamic and innovative employment that the younger generation prefer.
And while they are at it, why not combine labor and leisure, providing temporary jobs to local and foreign backpackers, so travelers can spend time in these rural communities and earn some money while they are doing it, at the same time addressing the labor shortage problem.
Farmers’ associations can help by coordinating labor recruitment, integrating various kinds of agricultural businesses to provide long-term employment opportunities for domestic labor, or implement a contract farming system.
A nation’s major policies should not just be hastily improvised. Public policy must both be practical and promote the welfare of the public, otherwise it could spell disaster. This latest policy on recruitment has been announced before assessments have been made, and before adequate measures have been put in place.
It is no wonder that such a spurious policy decision has been criticized, with some even suggesting that the government is deliberately trying to phase out the agricultural sector.
Government officials need to tread very carefully now, and not create another situation in which society gets riled at what they are doing.
Du Yu is chief executive officer of the Chen-Li Task Force for Agricultural Reform.
Translated by Paul Cooper