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Hydroponics Reinvigorating Japan Following Fukushima Disaster Featured

Japan’s farmers are getting into hydroponics. Japan’s farmers are getting into hydroponics.


Two years after the greatest nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl, Japan's Fukushima prefecture struggles to return to a life it once knew.

The fields have been left dormant, the untilled earth lying bare or wrapped in large plastic bags ready for removal. This soil that once harbored life and nourishment is now infertile and poisoned. The surrounding towns are inhabited, but sparsely. An exodus from the tsunami-hit areas is evident.

Their futures muddied by fallout and lingering radiation, farmers in the region who worked the land only a short time ago face an uncertain fate. Toxic ash, which spewed through the air after the plant's generators lost power, dusts the soil. Sludge and salt from the ocean have paired together to render croplands useless. With options few, many farmers have abandoned their land as well as their trade.

The push toward hydroponic gardening has been well received by the government, which is eager to restore industry in the region.

Since 2011, nearly one million acres of formerly cultivated land has been deserted due to the meltdown of Fukushima's Dai-ichi reactors. Fukushima's farmers have lost over a billion dollars in those two years, spurring a massive government intervention to save the livelihoods of those that refuse to leave it all behind.

How is it possible to continue in such adverse conditions? In a twist that only makes perfect sense, enterprising growers have found an answer in hydroponics.

The push toward hydroponic gardening has been well received by the government, which is eager to restore industry in the region. In fact, Takeo Endo, the man who first proposed hydroponic farming as a solution, is already turning ground.

Bolstered by a ten million dollar subsidy as well as special tax breaks designed to promote commerce after the tsunami, Endo is building a seven acre hydroponic factory just north of the disaster site in Sendai, Miyagi. Under the guise of Michisaki, Endo's agricultural corporation, the facility will be lined with aluminum and kept completely sealed from outside contamination.

The amount of vegetables the outfit will be able to produce is staggering: over 8,000 heads of lettuce daily. The factory will also provide a much needed boost to employment rates, with 10 full-time and 50 part-time workers slated for hire.

The switch to hydroponics is a sensible choice for Japan, not only in the aftermath of a disaster. The country's largely import based agricultural sector could only stand to benefit from cost-effective hydroponics.

To date, the price of traditional agriculture in Japan is sorrily outmatched by US mega-farms, who even after shipping their product across the Pacific still present a cheaper alternative to locally grown fruit and vegetables. Hydroponic yields, on the other hand, can be ten to 100 times greater than field grown crops, use one percent of the water traditionally used to irrigate and generate a leafy green such as lettuce from seed in as little as ten days.

Given time, hydroponics could revive agriculture in both Fukushima and the country as a whole. Unfortunately, the general public is still very wary of radiation that could present itself in northern grown crops. With a state-of-the-art facility and good business sense, Takeo Endo may be just the thing to convince consumers to buy Fukushima produce once again.

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A Japanese news report about hydroponics in Fukushima.
Last modified on Monday, 10 June 2013 22:27

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