Climate Witness: Katsuo Sasaki, Japan | WWF

Climate Witness: Katsuo Sasaki, Japan

Posted on 18 abril 2007
Katsuo Sasaki, WWF Climate Witness from Japan
Katsuo Sasaki, WWF Climate Witness from Japan
© WWF Japan
Mr. Katsuo Sasaki, who spoke up from the rice field about the impact of climate change, passed away on March 11th 2011, due to the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. He was a passionate leader of organic rice farming and had been deeply concerned about the environment. He was one of the first and most sincere leaders for the WWF Climate Witness projects.

WWF is deeply saddened by this tremendous loss and we wish to express our sincerest sympathy to Mr.Sasaki's family. Our thoughts are with him and his family at this difficult time.

My name is Katsuo Sasaki. I am a farmer and I have more than 40 years experience in growing rice. I am based in Miyagi on the northern part of mainland Honshu.

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I have been growing organic rice for the last 12 years, aiming to secure the supply of healthy food. I have been experiencing a lot of changes that affect my farming activities, which I believe are due to climate change, especially in the last ten years. I am afraid that my farm will no longer be suitable for producing rice in next decades.

Low quality rice

Miyagi is known as a high-quality rice producing area. But during the last ten years the quality of rice has been degrading. When the summer temperature is high, the rice grains get opacified. Opacified rice cannot be sold because of its poor quality.

Most farmers around here, including myself, have been struggling with opacifying rice, and this year, the prefectural government has instructed us to put off the timing of planting so that the rice would ripen in autumn, when the temperature is lower. In other words, because of these changes in our climate, we have already come to the point that we actually need to adapt our farming practices to the new environment.

Beware of bugs

Deadly bugs have increased recently, especially shield bugs. These bugs cause black spots on rice, lessening the commercial value of the crops. Ten years ago, I rarely saw shield bugs, but they are increasingly found in most parts of Japan’s agriculture sector.

Many farmers believe this is due to global warming, which appears to be causing a lot of trouble, not only to rice farmers but also to vegetable and fruit farmers. As a result, lots of farmers have no other choice but to use more pesticides to control the insects. As I have been focusing on growing strong organic rice, my rice is still resistant to those bugs, but I fear that in the coming decades, Miyagi will no longer be a suitable place for growing rice.

Good rice needs three components — suitable climate, good soil and clean mineral water. I strongly feel Miyagi is losing its suitable climate due to climate change. In the coming decades, viable rice farming will probably be limited to Hokkaido, the northern Island of Japan, and the Miyagi area, which is well known for its high-grade rice will soon lose its reputation. It is happening. I can see only bad things from the impact of climate change. This worries me.

Extreme weather

We are also experiencing more frequent extreme weather than when I started as a farmer. Summer temperatures tend to fluctuate considerably each year — one year summer temperatures are hotter than average, the next year they are colder. Both extremes are detrimental to rice growing.

I feel that it is because of climate change that we are experiencing more change in temperature range. Last year, we experienced torrential rainfall at the end of December, which is very unusual. We often get heavy rainfall in the typhoon season in September and in the rainy season in July, but we never had heavy rainfall in December as far as I can remember. We were lucky last year because it didn’t hit our farming area, but in the future we need to be ready for these kinds of unexpected weather events that never happened before.

Living in harmony with nature

We have been using nature so far to suit our needs. We have used a lot of pesticides and fertilizers and we abandoned some of the farm ground when it was not productive enough, not thinking about the cycle of nature. I feel the ecosystem is collapsing because of these practices. Now, due to global warming, many farmers feel that they have no other choice but to use even more pesticides, thus further undermining the ecosystem and endangering the food security. It is vicious cycle.

I am trying to break this cycle by focusing on growing organic rice, which I believe is the best way to secure the supply of healthy food for the customers. I think we need to value the natural qualities of rice, and try to strengthen these qualities so that we can produce more resilient rice. I believe we need to live in harmony with nature, instead of abusing nature.


Scientific Background

Reviewed by: The National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO), Japan

Katsuo Sasaki’s observations are consistent with reports from the Japanese National Agriculture and Bio-oriented Research Organization (NARO) that concludes warmer temperatures have degraded rice quality and increased the incidence of harmful insects in 70% of Japan’s rice fields, and that rice production is likely to shift to the northern part of Japan.

Further, according to IPCC Third Assessment Report, the average temperature increased 1ºC in Japan, and the precipitation increased 5 to 10%. IPCC projections suggest that this trend will continue, thus affecting Japan’s agriculture sector.

National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO)
All articles are subject to scientific review by a member of the Climate Witness Science Advisory Panel.
Katsuo Sasaki, WWF Climate Witness from Japan
Katsuo Sasaki, WWF Climate Witness from Japan
© WWF Japan Enlarge
Drying rice after harvest. Kurihara, Miyagi prefecture, Japan.
Drying rice after harvest. Kurihara, Miyagi prefecture, Japan.
© Kinori Enlarge
Rice paddy in Autumn. Wakayanagi, Kurihara, Miygai prefecture, Japan.
Rice paddy in Autumn. Wakayanagi, Kurihara, Miygai prefecture, Japan.
© Kinori Enlarge