Bangkok, 17 Oct 2011 -- Today, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presented FAO awards to five farmers for outstanding achievements in the areas of horticulture (Japan), aquaculture (Lao PDR), small island agriculture (Maldives), forestry (Papua New Guinea) and rice farming (Thailand) during the Asia-Pacific observance of World Food Day in Bangkok.
A model horticulturist from Japan
Ms Satoko Anzai
Coming from a silk farming family, Ms Satoko Anzai graduated from high school and fell in love with a local fruit farmer named Chusaku. After they were married, Ms Anzai turned to farming.
Anzai-san and her husband are natives of Fukushima prefecture. Until recently, Fukushima city was best known for the quality and tastiness of its fruits. Whatever knowledge Ms Anzai originally lacked about growing fruits she more than made up for with ideas about how to grow the family business.
Her first idea was to shun pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. The blueberries grown on her 4.5-hectare farm are 100 percent organic, while the peaches, apples, cherries, peaches and persimmons are cultivated with as few chemicals as possible. This gave her family’s fruits an advantage with consumers, as Japan’s people were becoming more health conscious. She was also the first to make smoothies and jams from her fruits and market them in her region.
Another innovation was to sell the rights to her fruits directly to consumers. For example, a customer can buy the rights to all the apples from one of her trees. The plan has proved popular with tourists who have visited Fukushima, and the Iinuma Tourism Board was impressed enough to promote the plan, linking her up with local inns and hotels.
More than half of Japan’s farmers are women, and Ms Anzai feels strongly that they should be recognized. In the 1990s she became a member of the Fukushima Prefecture Rural Women Empowerment Association, and the Fukushima Female Business Entrepreneurship Society, and was later voted chairperson of the Society. She was also elected chairperson of the National Female Farm Management Council. The Council has over 200 women members, and while their farming enterprises range from big to small, all of them are the CEOs or board members of their businesses.
Ms Anzai also feels strongly about community. She says: “Our community is our strength.” And so, she works with the elderly and educates school children about farming, healthy foods and nutrition. She has also worked with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, teaching visiting farmers from countries in Asia and Africa how to grow fruits with less pesticides and chemicals.
Today Fukushima is known more for its recent tragedies than its fruits. Ms Anzai was fortunate in that her farm did not suffer significant damage from the earthquake or tsunami, and she has provided assistance to those who have been affected. The reputation of fruits and other agricultural produce from the area, however, did suffer because of fears about contamination from a damaged nuclear power station.
Now, Ms Anzai has dedicated herself to educating others that fruits and other produce from the region are regularly tested and are safe. She has created marketing events and joined with the Institute for Regional Brand Strategies at Fukushima University to disseminate information about the safety of fruits from Fukushima. Anzai-san says: “Everyone should have safe food. That is something I truly believe in.”
It may take time, but Fukushima will recover. With farmers and community leaders like Ms Anzai, that is something everyone can believe in.