According to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about new risks threatening the local and global food supply which need to be addressed, including the strengthening of local food security measures.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, although there was no shortage of raw material supply in Japan, the production, manufacturing and distribution of food products could not keep up with the rapid changes in demand [at both a] commercial and household level,” MAFF said via a formal statement.
“In addition, [delays in obtaining goods] were also seen due to supply chain disruptions stemming from production delays overseas and transportation issues which included uneven distribution of containers, switching to air transportation, having to switch suppliers and so on.
“This [all] resulted in various products becoming unavailable or out of stock at supermarkets, and also led to many incidences of hoarding and resale [which we wish to avoid] happening again.”
As such, Japan is renewing its efforts to prepare for such unforeseen circumstances and how to respond to these, building on business continuity plans such as those formulated in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
“We already have guidelines for businesses to deal with such situations namely the Emergency Food Security Guidelines – in the event of any emergency, it is desirable for food businesses to continue their operations in order to provide a stable supply of food,” said MAFF.
“Activities may be restricted in an emergency, so we will promote the formulation and review of new business continuity plans for businesses including food companies, and will be conducting simulation exercises from this fall in order to establish procedures to deal with any unforeseen circumstances in the future.”
“We are also establishing a new ‘Early Caution Stage’ in the guidelines, which is meant to improve monitoring and get early warnings of any crises – this will involve strengthening the collection and analysis of information [from various sectors], which we will disseminate to industry and consumers and also use to implement any necessary measures.”
Major risks to Japan’s food system
As part of the Emergency Food Security Guidelines, Japan highlighted various potential risks to food security from natural disasters to infectious diseases to supply chain issues and even climate change as major local risk factors, whereas overseas risk factors were even more numerous, including trade friction, exchange rate fluctuation and import competition.
One of the government’s main food security concerns for Japan is the country’s high dependence on food imports to sustain the population, which is ever more risky a situation amidst the pandemic.
“Japan’s food sufficiency rate has been declining yearly – it was 73% in 1965, but has hovered around just 40% in recent years, and is now one of if not the lowest level amongst major developed countries,” said MAFF.
“It is also concerning that Japan’s food imports are highly dependent on a small number of countries/regions [as] food production is always basically first directed to domestic consumption in each country before the surplus is exported.
“So to maintain and improve food self-sufficiency, Japan will work to seek out more agricultural resources and technology to boost yields, increase stockpiles and stabilise our imports [such that] the impact on imports will be as small as possible in the event of an emergency, e.g. maintaining food relations with exporting countries [and improving port conditions].”