The Promotion of Cooperatives by Kunio Yanagida

Author Name YAMASHITA Kazuhito (Senior Fellow, RIETI)
Creation Date/NO. June 2019 19-J-034
Research Project Japan's History of Thought on Agricultural Policy and Structural Reform of Agriculture
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Recently in Japan it is argued that we should protect small-scale, part-time farmers because small-scale farming tends to be more highly esteemed around the world than large-scale farming. The declaration by the United Nations, which the argument is based upon, is about peasants or farmers who are poor and subject to discrimination. The argument was hijacked by the fake interpretation or modification of the UN declaration in favor of defending the current situation of Japanese farming. Peasantism in the Japanese pre-war period which ended in 1945 was not for the benefit of poor peasants but for the interests of landowners who exploited peasants. On the contrary, Kunio Yanagida who tried to defend the interests of farmers argued that it is impossible to save farmers from poverty without enlarging the size of farms and decreasing the number of farmers. He advocated the use of cooperatives in order to increase the income of the actual peasants until the farms reached adequate size. He argued that cooperatives of individual farmers or peasants could collectively earn the equivalent income of a large scale farmer through the sale of their farm products not when they were harvested and in ample supply in the market, but when the price was high, by storing their products together after harvesting, jointly purchasing production inputs such as fertilizers to gain discounted rates, and by leasing their surplus money to each other.

In fact, the actual cooperatives worked for the upper-class farmers or landowners. Peasants or individual farmers were not allowed to join cooperatives. The great movement of improving the economy and status of farmers and villages after the Great Depression led by the Ministry of Agriculture changed the characteristics of cooperatives. One cooperative was established in each town and village. All the local farmers became members of the cooperatives. Each cooperative handled all of the agriculture-related business, such as the sale of farm products, the purchase of inputs and other materials and farm financing. Kotaro Sengoku, the leader of the cooperatives, activated cooperatives and brought them great prosperity, eventually constructing a large building for cooperatives in the center of Tokyo. The cooperatives were turned into administrative bodies for rural areas during the war, which then became the current agricultural cooperatives called JAs after the war.

JAs were formed and have developed not through the autonomy of member farmers but under the guidance or direction of the Ministry of Agriculture and the leaders of JAs. That is why JAs have become dependent on governmental aid not the idea of self-help advocated by Kunio Yanagida. JAs and their employees tend to regard member farmers not as the core or center of cooperatives movements but as objects which provide them with benefits. Therefore, it is natural that the current administration has proposed the reform of JAs. Kunio Yanagida and the great movement towards improving the economy and the status of farmers and villages tried to utilize cooperatives to help individual farmers or peasants out of poverty. In fact, the poverty in farming and villages has disappeared. Farmers' incomes have become larger than other worker incomes since 1965. The objective of cooperatives has been achieved. At the same time, JAs have flourished by making use of their huge bank account balances which has accrued mainly out of the farming income of part time farmers, which leads to the process of de-farming of JAs. In the same way as in the era of Kunio Yanagida, the concept of cooperatives is quite different from the reality.