Rural Japan puts thorn in side of farm reform

TOKYO, Aug 5, 2007 (AFP) – Fearing their government cares more about big business than small farmers, Japan’s rural dwellers are deserting the ruling conservative camp, leaving its plan to open up the agriculture market in doubt. With the opposition now in control of one house of parliament, experts say the government may find it harder to achieve its goal of inking more free trade deals and finding common ground in the stalled World Trade Organisation talks.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffered a major defeat in the July 29 upper house election, and one of major reasons was its loss of seats in rural communities, once bastions of the LDP.

“Farmers, traditionally staunch supporters of the LDP, said ‘No’ to Abe’s agricultural policy,” said Nobuhiro Suzuki, a professor of international environmental economics at the University of Tokyo.

“Abe has proceeded with a pro-business trade policy, ignoring the farm sector’s voice and only listening to the views of business leaders,” said Suzuki, a former farm ministry official.

A series of scandals and gaffes by cabinet ministers have weighed heavily on the popularity of Abe, whose support has also been eroded by growing concerns about a ric