According to The Asahi Shimbun, fruit and vegetable farmers face the prospect of incurring significant financial losses this spring as hundreds of foreign technical intern trainees involved in seasonal farm work are facing problems entering Japan due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a worst-case scenario, this might mean that fruit and veg will not only be in short supply but also at premium prices.
Technical intern trainees from China are not being allowed by their government to leave, while those who returned to China for the Lunar New Year holidays have also been held up trying to get back to Japan as a result of restrictions placed on travel.
Potential trainees from other nations are cancelling plans to come to Japan for fear of becoming infected.
According to one estimate, about 800 technical intern trainees who would have been working in farms have been unable to enter Japan.
Those farms, mostly small enterprises, will be hit by economic losses if the trainees do not arrive soon because spring harvest for vegetables is fast approaching.
The Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives (JA-Zenchu) sent out a special questionnaire to member co-operatives in late February to assess the worker situation.
Nine prefectural co-operatives gave specific figures for the number of technical intern trainees who might not show up as originally planned. Those nine prefectures faced a total shortage of about 360 trainees.
“If farm work cannot proceed as planned, there might be a decrease in production levels,” warned Toru Nakaya, the JA-Zenchu chairman.
Other prefectures also face similar labor shortages.
Many prefectures depend on technical intern trainees because of the backbreaking work involved at fruit and vegetable farms during harvest time.
Nagano Prefecture is a leading producer of lettuce.
As of March 9, it remained unclear if 437 trainees from China who were scheduled to arrive in Japan between late March and April will be able to do so, according to a prefectural government section overseeing promotion of farming villages.
Farms are scrambling to find Japanese workers to make up for the shortfall in Chinese trainees, but many have not cobbled the needed numbers required.
“If the trainees are unable to arrive by mid-May when harvesting of lettuce is at its busiest, production levels will drop,” said a prefectural government official handling the matter.
One agricultural co-operative in eastern Nagano Prefecture said 94 trainees still had not arrived.
There are fears that sales could plummet by as much as 1 billion yen ($10 million) if an adequate number of workers is not secured.
“This is an issue that must be resolved at the central government level,” said one official who conceded there was very little local organizations could do.
Farm minister Taku Eto told a March 11 session of the Lower House Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committee, “We are thinking about approaching nations that are not on the list of nations that Japan has placed entry restrictions on, but it appears nationals from those countries also do not want to come to Japan.”
Despite the difficulties, he said every effort would be made to secure sufficient workers so the effect on production is minimized.
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