According to a 2011 Family Income and Expenditure survey conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, a Japanese household with two or more people consumes 45kg of bread and 36kg of noodles annually.
A recent report compiled by the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP), outlined that in Japan, ‘strong’ wheat varieties used in bread and noodles are hardly cultivated as these wheat varieties are better suited to dry regions.
Data in the report showed that in 2009, Japan imported 480,000 tons of wheat from the US, Canada and Australia and domestically produced only 73,000 tons – just 13.2%.
“The demand for good-quality domestically produced wheat has been growing in Japan,” NISTEP said.
“This is attributable not only to the growing need for a variety of foods but also to anxiety surrounding imported foods, a desire to improve the food self-sufficiency rate, and (due to the increase in the population of wealthy people in emerging countries and climate change) rising and destabilised wheat prices,” it said.
Consumers in Japan are also beginning to preference domestic wheat and are willing to pay more for what they consider to be safer food, NISTEP said, as post-harvest chemicals are not used in domestic wheat production, just agricultural chemicals.
However, while efforts have been invested in research and development, the scale of production remains “small and scattered and human resources are scarce,” NISTEP said.
Wheat-breeding research focus
Wheat-breeding research must be invested in to enable improved production technologies and thus ensure good quality domestic wheat varieties and stronger yields, NISTEP said.
“The DNA marker selection technique has been drawing attention as a way to accelerate research,” it said, as it enables scientists to select suitable strains according to genetic differences.
“It is essential to establish a stable and versatile cultivation technique and to create a system to provide accurate information and support to producers by, for example, educating on different types of additional fertilisers and when to use them to combat various diseases,” it detailed.
Protecting intellectual property on such work has been invested in by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The ministry is also aiding local brand strategies to ensure local wheat holds value.
According to the report, Hokkaido, Japan’s most Northern prefecture, is the largest wheat producer – representing 60-70% of total domestic production.