March 17, 2011

Food Security in Post-Quake Japan

The world’s focus since last Friday has rightly been on the
post-earthquake efforts in Japan. For the past few days, most attention has
been directed to the troubling situation at Japan’s nuclear power stations.
While we have been closely monitoring that situation, we have also been curious
about the food situation which appears to be getting far less attention – at
least here in the United States – but seems just as urgent.

Here is some useful information that I was able to dig up. First,
the Japanese government has been closely monitoring the food situation. Much of
the work in securing and distributing adequate food supplies is being
coordinated by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). MAFF
set up the Earthquake Disaster Countermeasures Headquarters to deal with the
crisis which has held nine meetings since the disaster, according to the
briefing summaries of each meeting
that were released on their website.

The most immediate problem facing the Japanese government,
it seems, is not the supply of food, but rather distributing food to those in affected
areas. To this end, the Japanese government has mobilized 100,000
Self Defense Forces to assist with the humanitarian relief effort
Additionally, the last
meeting summary posted on the MAFF website said
that “MAFF is considering
some new methods to supply food for people in the disaster area.” Prime
Minister Naoto Kan later clarified what this meant when
he told reporters that he was considering having troops deliver food to coastal
communities by air or sea
, according to The
Washington Post

Still, it remains unclear how badly those in the affected
areas were in need of food. In Sendai City, for example, The Washington Post quoted an American living
as saying that the shelters had “enough food and space.” At the same
time, Voice of America quoted an official from
U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs saying that millions were still in
need of clean water and food.

Over the long term though, a food shortage could become a
serious threat to earthquake victims. Japan is a large food importer and thus comes
to rely largely on outside markets to feed its population. Fortunately, the Japanese
government is already taking proactive steps to help fight off a future food
shortage problem. For example, Bloomberg
reported that MAFF
is trying to “buy 32,381 metric tons of milling wheat in a regular tender

on March 17.” Before the crisis, Japan had
920,000 tons of rice stockpiled

As a long time ally of Washington, the United States must
take strong actions to ensure   Japan has
adequate food supplies. So far, the work of the U.S. military and aid agencies
has been commendable. Already, the United States has
delivered seventeen tons of food, water, blankets and other relief supplies
according to The Washington Post. As
Japan continues to recover, the United States should offer sustained assistance
to ensure that the country can meet its needs. Public attention will likely be
diverted in the coming weeks, but the Obama administration should make sure its
attention continues to focus on ensuring that Japan recovers strongly from this