TOKYO — Japan’s central and local governments are adopting measures that account for the impact of global warming on the future of agriculture and people’s livelihoods.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last September concluded that human activities are contributing to global warming. Researchers around the world have noted that current countermeasures taken by countries are not enough. There is also evidence to suggest that extreme natural disasters of the past few years, such as giant typhoons and torrential rains, are being caused by the warmer climate.
Rise of new rice
Climate change is already changing the competitive landscape of Japan’s rice production. In the rice taste rankings released by the Japan Grain Inspection Association in February, the Akihonami brand of rice developed by Kagoshima Prefecture was given the top spot, making it the first rice brand from the southern prefecture to do so.
Eight brands of rice from the Kyushu region, which includes Kagoshima, were included in the highest rankings. This is not too far behind the northeastern Tohoku region, long considered Japan’s main rice-production area, which has 12 brands of the same caliber.
In Kagoshima, the mainstay Hinohikari breed produces rice stalks shortly after the Bon holiday season in mid-August. But in the past few years, the average daily temperature has exceeded 27 C around that time of year. This abnormally high average has prevented rice stalks from maturing.
In response, the prefectural agriculture center developed Akihonami, which is harvested about 10 days later than Hinohikari. The new breed is a cross between Hinohikari and the Koshihikari brand.
Last year, 80% of the Akihonami harvest was recognized as high-quality, while only 50% of Hinohikari rice was given this distinction. Last summer saw a significant heat wave.
“We need to continue breed improvements to cope with high temperatures,” an official from the agriculture center said.
The National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences forecasts that by the end of the century, global warming will decrease the quality of rice across Japan and that rice production will become especially difficult in the Kyushu and Chugoku regions of southern Japan.
Preventive measures against floods are also being taken. A project at Tsuruda Dam in Kagoshima is unlike anything being done in the world. The dam is adding discharge pipes at 65 meters below the surface of the water. Construction divers live in a capsulelike space in which they stay for about a month in the same air pressure as the depth of the water to become accustomed to their working environment.
The project will increase the dam’s flood control capacity by 30%, to a maximum of 98 million cu. meters, by allowing for sluicing at lower water levels. This lower-level sluicing will better prevent flooding downstream. In 2006, flooding of the Sendai River in Kagoshima damaged 2,347 houses.
The website for Xrain, or X-band polarimetric (multi parameter) Radar Information Network, offered by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, has become popular. Xrain measures rainfall broken down into 250 sq. meter sectors and can quickly track torrential downpours. Last August, the site received more that 3 million visits a day.
There is no guarantee, however, that needed flood control measures will be completed by the time unusual weather is commonplace. The ministry says that the risk of flooding at rivers controlled by the central government will increase by 80-340% at the end of the century as temperature rises.