FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Japan

CASE 14 -- Smart green village in Japan: the Yosano-cho story

The town of Yosano (Yosano-cho) is located in the northern part of Kyoto prefecture. As in other parts of Japan, the average age of farmers has risen over the years and, as a result, large numbers have already retired or are about to do so. Encouraging young people to join the agriculture sector and retain the heir to farming households was an urgent problem that needed be solved.

The combination of a declining birth rate with diversifying food product choices and consumption habits has led to a decrease in rice consumption by around 80 000 tonnes every year.  The price farmers receive is also falling, attributed to declining rice consumption.  The only choice for farmers is to produce a high-quality premium rice for which consumers will pay an even higher price.

About 10 percent of the land in Yosano-cho is cultivable and farmers believe that besides producing food, retaining these lands is crucial for land and water conservation, preservation of the ecosystem and cultural heritage. They chose to continue producing rice, but with increasing awareness of the need to adopt nature-based techniques. The traditional mind set of farmers changed from focusing on increased yield and productivity to growing the type of rice consumers prefer and will pay a premium price embracing practices different from those in other parts of rural Japan.

Yosano-cho is unique in its early embrace of the concept of the smart green village. It is also one of Japan’s rural towns that promotes the use of the most advanced information and communication technologies to compensate for a declining and aging labour force as well as sustaining traditional knowledge around growing rice.  Yosano-cho is exemplary in that farmers collaborate with the municipal government, private sector and universities to maintain local farming practices, using digital technology not only for agriculture but also for medical and welfare issues (e.g. telemedicine), transportation/mobility/logistics (e.g. freight management, location information system, besides producing food), and a mobile supermarket. It also monitors elder well-being to support farmers and the aging population of the town.

The digital technologies applied in Yosano-cho included the use of e-kakashi, an IOT (internet of things) tool to analyze data collected through sensory nodes placed around each field. Every ten minutes, these nodes collect information on humidity, quantity of solar radiation, soil temperature, water content in soil and amount of CO2 in the fields. These data are sent to a device with a built in communication module to manage on the cloud so that farmers can access these data anytime and in any location.  In rice production, farmers in Yosano-cho have two major concerns. One is that experienced farmers are aging and retiring without transferring traditional skills and knowledge to the next generation. Also, in recent years climate change has altered growth processes and rice production so that even more experienced farmers struggled with the timing of water drainage during summer and with the harvest. 

Yosano-cho’s use of digital technology not only preserves traditional ways of rice farming and compensates for the declining number of farmers, but also helps to sustain rural ways of life by extending the app into transport, medical care and natural resource management. This community provides an ideal example of how the traditional heritage of rural Japan can be passed on to the next generation through digital technology.”

With e-kakachi, all the knowledge and techniques of experienced farmers were converted into detailed numerical forms with all growth and hindrance parameters and factors customized in the app and passed to a new generation of farmers through the app. By using an app named ek recipe, the time needed to master rice farming fell from five to two years. This app helps farmers to manage rice cultivation indicating the activities required at each stage of growing rice. When the sensory nodes detect environmental risks such as pest outbreaks, the app alerts farmers to take appropriate action.

The livestock industry was never developed in Yosano-cho therefore there are no organic materials for fertilizer.  However, there is a tofu manufacturing plant in the town and farmers realized they could use the soybean pulp discarded by the factory as organic fertilizer. Rice bran and fish waste were also available and the Yosano-cho municipal government agreed to establish a factory to produce 100 percent organic fertilizer, which farmers buy and apply to produce a branded premium rice, Kyono Mamekko Mai 「京の豆っこ米」.

Keeping soil in good condition was hard work and traditionally soil making relied on the farmers’ intuition and experience. It was more so for organic farming where farmers often struggled to maintain the yield and to produce a stable harvest. Farmers in Yosano-cho adopted a soil diagnostic technology called Sofix, developed by one of the collaborating universities. This analytical technology can assess the amount and concentration of microorganisms as well as the nitrogen, phosphate and potassium content of the soil. Using this device and applying locally produced organic fertilizer, farmers can adopt scientifically proven methods to make healthy soil constantly. Today their soil is certified one of the healthiest in the region.

The municipal government of Yosano-cho also put in place a low power wireless communication network called LPWA (low power wide area network) that covers entire areas of Yosano-cho. Sensory nodes track farmers to explore the options for improved logistics, farming efficiency and more productive farming activities. By combining a low power communication network such as LPWA with a high speed communication network such as
5G, digital technologies can meet different needs. Besides use in agriculture and logistics, LPWA can detect wild animals that may damage crops, manage irrigation and waterways, operate drones, prevent and prepare for natural disasters, monitor older people in the community and deliver medicine.

Yosano-cho’s use of digital technology not only preserves traditional ways of rice farming and compensates for the declining number of farmers but also helps to sustain rural ways of life by extending the app into transport, medical care and natural resource management.

Today, farmers in Yosano-cho produce Koshihikari cultivar of Japonica rice branded as Kyono Mamekko Mai and sold throughout Japan as one of the highest grades of rice.  Since 2000, the Japan Grain Inspection Association has ranked Yosano-cho’s rice as special A-grade 12 times. Yosano-cho is an ideal example of how the traditional heritage of rural Japan can be passed on to the next generation through digital technology.  

CASE 15 -- Leveraging ICT for agriculture under Smart City Initiative in Japan: the case of Iwamizawa

Japan is facing a significant challenge from low birth rates and an aging population. This is particularly problematic for the agriculture sector. The agricultural workforce has shrunk as young people are not attracted to it as a career. Drawing on digital solutions seems a way to attract more people to rural areas and farming.

Iwamizawa City in Hokkaido, an important agricultural production area in Japan, is responding to this need by implementing a smart city initiative. This aims to improve working conditions and secure the future of agriculture by setting up a high quality ICT (information communication technologies) infrastructure. It also seeks to expand internet access in rural areas and provide social, educational and medical services, even remotely.  The city government has initiated this project targeting all residents. 

The introduction of smart farming technologies, such as robot tractors with GPS (global positioning system) or automated water management systems, has revitalized local rice paddy production in Iwanizawa City. Robotic tractors are used for ploughing or to prepare land for sowing, while the automatic water supply valve supports water management. Other examples include fertilizer application through variable rate spraying or harvesting with a robotic combine harvester. On average, 83.5 percent of the rice fields have improved and farmers are working fewer hours. Rural communities can also access better social and medical services. Farm level information is collected and consolidated to estimate input costs for each farm and ensure labour availability before introducing new crops.

 “Robotic tractors are used for ploughing
or to prepare land for sowing, while the automatic water supply valve supports
water management. Other examples include fertilizer application through variable rate spraying or harvesting with a robotic combine harvester. On average, 83.5 percent of
the rice fields have improved and farmers
are working fewer hours.”

It is estimated smart farming technologies decrease production costs by 50 percent (Yen 8 000/60kg) and increase farmers’ income by 20 percent. The project is expanding with regional implementation in vast paddy fields. Despite the positive benefits, there remain several challenges to ensure a smart agriculture environment. The communication infrastructure requires further improvements and internet service providers need to be able to service remote areas.

The city of Iwamizawa has also partnered with the NTT Group and Hokkaido University in a joint study to apply innovative technologies to agriculture (e.g. greenhouse farming, open-field cultivation, raising livestock, food loss reduction, etc.). The research project tests self-driving robotics technology, high precision location information, 5G mobile communication systems and AI (artificial intelligence) to develop sustainable agricultural management simulation models. The idea is to promote optimal cultivation practices that can be performed remotely by control robotics, such as agricultural machines, drones, mowers and harvesters. The project is currently in demonstration phase, but to commercialize these technologies requires further understanding and forecasting of the status of agriculture machinery, weather and crop growth.

The smart city programme also includes an improved internet environment in rural areas by developing facilities for broadband, information and communications. The ICT infrastructure also provides social, educational and medical services such watching over children from a distance and providing remote classes and medical consultations.