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Sustainable Food Supply for the Coming 20 years

2014.06.19

Unit Name:
Food Security
Unit representative:
Professor Hiroshi Ezura, Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences

Unit members:
23 (20 faculty members, 0 postdoctoral fellows, 3 from other organizations)

Key words:
Food strategy, food science, food security

 

The current food self-sufficiency rate of Japan is 40%, the lowest of all developed countries. Current agricultural production should be maintained to improve the current self-sufficiency rate and ensure sustainable food supply in the future. However, the average age of farmers is already over 65 years. What will happen to agricultural productivity and food supply in Japan with its declining birth rate and an aging population? What technological development will be effective for maintaining agricultural productivity? Our unit investigates future food problems in the coming 10 years, which are fundamental to our lives.

How should food supply be maintained in Japan with an aging population?

In our unit, social scientists predict a future social structure to consider what is needed to maintain food security. Natural scientists are engaged in research and development to technologically realize the structure. For example, we focus on “easy agriculture” to reduce the burden of labor in consideration of the agricultural situation in Japan where 40% of the population will be over 65 years old in 2050. Figure 1 shows tomatoes that bear fruits after flowering without manual pollination. Cultivating vegetables in greenhouses all year round may pose difficulties when relying on natural pollination in some seasons and prolonged working hours in greenhouses in hot weather. Agricultural processes before harvesting may be reduced to planting and disease control.

Figure 1: Tomatoes that bear fruits throughout the year (arrow: a fruit growing without pollination)

Figure 1: Tomatoes that bear fruits throughout the year (arrow: a fruit growing without pollination)

Increase the functionality and value of vegetables and activate horticulture production

Vegetables are essential components of healthy diets. However, storing vegetables is difficult. Technology to increase storage stability has attracted attention. Figure 2 shows tomatoes that do not go rotten for 60 days after ripening. If this technology can be applied to other vegetables, free trade should facilitate the export of such vegetables to other countries. In addition, we make efforts to increase the desirability of vegetable brands. The tomato cultivar the Fruit Gold GABA-rich (Figure 3) has abundant levels of an amino acid called GABA. GABA has antihypertensive effects. We aim to grow highly functional vegetables as healthy foods.
Thus, a future agricultural base will be constructed through the enhanced production of horticultural crops (vegetables) and development of production technologies (Figure 4).

Figure 2: Tomatoes that do not go rotten even after 60 days (upper: ordinary tomatoes, lower: tomatoes with increased storage stability)

Figure 2: Tomatoes that do not go rotten even after 60 days (upper: ordinary tomatoes, lower: tomatoes with increased storage stability)

Figure 3: GABA-rich functional tomatoes

Figure 3: GABA-rich functional tomatoes

Figure 4: Construction of agricultural base

Figure 4: Construction of agricultural base

Social contributions and achievements
● Our unit has attracted so much attention, both in Japan and abroad, that the University of Tsukuba is called a center of horticultural sciences and has even appeared in a television program on a state-run channel.
● Ibaraki Prefecture is a major producer of horticultural crops in Japan. Our unit collaborates with the prefectural government and companies, forming a unique food security research base in Japan.
● Human resources, expected to meet social demands, are developed through education on food security.

(Interviewed on May 9, 2013)


Research Administration/Management Office at U Tsukuba TEL 029-853-4434