Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Realistic Land Survey Must be the Basis of Agricultural Policy Reform
GODO Yoshihisa /  Professor, Meiji Gakuin University

June 30, 2011
The debate over agriculture in Japan is often described as a contest between "Protectionists" advocating government protection and "Reformists" calling for liberalization. Normally, the top agenda for any discussion should be the reform of agricultural policy, regardless of which side you take. However, both sides seem intent on heating up the debate around the philosophical question of whether Japan should protect its agriculture or not. It has reached the point of a theological argument. To me, such an argument bears no relevance to the reality of Japan's agricultural policy. It is as dangerous as prescribing a cure without applying a stethoscope to the patient.
Japan's agricultural policy has become grossly dysfunctional. To begin with, there is no accurate ledger that can be used to assess the status quo. There is the so-called Basic Register of Agricultural Land, which supposedly records the location of agricultural land, its owner and cultivator. However, the Basic Register has not been checked against the actual state of affairs. In some cases, records have not been updated since the agricultural reforms of 1947, when land owned by landlords were sold to their tenants. In other cases, land no longer used for farming that have been converted into parking lots or residential areas are still listed as agricultural land. Thus the Basic Register has long ceased to serve its purpose.

One example of such slipshod management was the illegal conversion incident that came to light in March last year involving Azuma Koshiishi, a powerful member of the ruling Democratic Party. It was revealed that the house, garden and parking space owned by the lawmaker's family were in fact registered as agricultural land in the Basic Register. It was even possible that lighter tax rates for agricultural land were being applied to the property. While the incident made the national headlines as a blatant violation of the law, the matter has been left unanswered to this day.

Ironically, only a year before the Koshiishi incident, the Agricultural Land Act had been revised with a special emphasis on promoting appropriate use of agricultural land and reinforcing regulations on land conversion. Thus it became a terrible example for owners of agricultural land. The incident was public proof that no matter what the law says, it lost its bite upon implementation, and owners could get away with whatever they wanted to do with their land.

There is no way we can leave the Basic Register of Agricultural Land as it stands today. However, the government has a hard time getting owners and leaseholders to cooperate in any survey intended to ascertain the actual status of landownership. They are reluctant because it is highly probable that such a survey would uncover their past violations and circumventions of the law. Besides, the Basic Register was compiled by municipal governments based on an administrative directive merely as conventional records, and there is no clear legal basis for collecting the necessary information. Furthermore, increasingly stringent restrictions are being applied to the collection and management of personal information since the Personal Information Protection Law came into effect in 2005. What constitutes a "conversion" is itself up for interpretation. Owners and leaseholders may insist that their land remains for agricultural purposes, even when they are currently not used as such. The handling of such cases poses a considerable problem. If we let things be, agricultural policy will become even more dysfunctional. Unlawful activities such as fraudulent subsidies and self-serving conversion of agricultural land will prevail. This could lead to chaos.

Unlawful actions should not simply be dismissed as being unfair. It could become a major negative legacy for future generations. Two decades have passed since the Bubble Economy period, and we are still feeling the impact of reckless exploitation of land that was rampant at the time. Likewise, once we allow land owners to convert their land as they please, the negative effects will remain for years to come.

From the 15th century to the 16th century, Daimyo warlords surveyed the land to establish the size of rice paddies and fields and their yields in crop to tax the regions under their power. Today in the Heisei era (1989-)*, what we need most is a basic land register that reflects reality.

Eisuke Inoue of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper calls it the "Heisei Land Survey." If it cannot be done within the framework of the existing Basic Register of Agricultural Land, we could cerate a new register. It would also require a process in which the definition of conversion is decided by local residents, instead of leaving it up to the government. We may also need special measures for significantly reducing the penalties against past legal violations, provided they fall within a specified time period.

Executing the "Heisei Land Survey" would require farmers and the local community as a whole to shoulder part of the responsibility. This will no doubt be a depressing task for both farmers and local residents. But it is absolutely essential if we are to design a genuinely bright future for this country.

Unfortunately, those who call themselves "experts" - both Protectionists and Reformists alike – have carefully avoided mentioning the mismanaged Basic Register, let alone the "Heisei Land Survey." However, if we let things be, agricultural policy will become even more dysfunctional. And no matter how high-minded, all the agricultural theories being exchanged among "experts" will be worthless. It seems to me that violent disagreement between the Protectionists and Reformists is only a pretense to hide their pre-established agreement of running from reality.
.*Note: Japan adheres to its traditional custom of changing the name of the era to coincide with the reign of an Emperor. In 1989, the Showa era ended and the Heisei era began when the current Emperor Akihito ascended to the throne following the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito.
The writer is Professor of Economics at Meiji Gakuin University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

神門 善久 / 明治学院大学教授

2011年 6月 30日

 日本の農業行政は機能不全が著しい。そもそも実態を把握するための台帳が不正確である。一応、農地基本台帳(Basic Register of Agricultural Land)というものがあって、どこにどういう農地があって、所有者や耕作者は誰なのかといったことが記録されていることになっている。しかし、実はこの農地基本台帳が実態との突合せがおこなわれていない。1947年に米軍占領下で地主所有の農地を小作人に売り渡した農地改革のときから記載情報が更新されていないとか、実際には駐車場や住宅など非農地化しているのに農地基本台帳上は農地のままになっているなど、体をなしていない。



 農地基本台帳をこのままで放置しておいてよいわけがない。しかし、いざ行政が実態を調べようとすると、地権者(owners and leaseholders)がなかなか協力してくれない。過去の違法脱法行為が明るみになる可能性が高いからである。ましてや、農地基本台帳は行政指導(administrative directive)にしたがって市町村が便宜的に作成したものにすぎず、農地基本台帳のための情報収集に明確な法律的根拠があるわけではない。このため、個人情報保護法の施行(2005年)後、ますます情報の収集や管理には制約が厳しくなっている。何をもって転用とみなすかが曖昧なため、非農地化していても地権者が農地であると言い張る可能性もあり、その場合の対処が難しい。このままでは、農業行政の機能不全は悪化するばかりである。補助金の不正受給やら、自分勝手な農地転用など、違法脱法行為が蔓延し、まさに無秩序状態に陥りかねない。






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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Realistic Land Survey Must be the Basis of Agricultural Policy Reform