Ministers from the Group-of-Seven nations agreed Sunday to promote agricultural innovation and investment as farmers face the twin challenges of an aging workforce and extreme weather at a time when global food demand is increasing.
“Motivated, skilled and enterprising farmers are essential for the growth of the agricultural sector,” the ministers said in a joint statement after two days of meetings focused on food security in Niigata prefecture, northern Japan. “We will help farmers enhance their capability and skills” by facilitating access to information and communication technologies, precision farming and agricultural innovations, they said.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has warned that left unchecked, aging farmers could threaten the ability to produce the food the world needs. The average age of growers in developed countries is now about 60, according to the United Nations. Japan’s Agriculture Minister Hiroshi Moriyama at the meeting outlined his idea of replacing retiring growers with Japanese-developed autonomous tractors and backpack-mounted robots, as the average age of Japanese farmers reaches 67.
“We have so much more in common than we have in differences,” Vilsack said in a joint news conference on Sunday. “In this particular meeting, we really focused on those things we have in common”
The meeting was also attended by ministers from other countries including Germany’s Christian Schmidt, Italy’s Maurizio Martina, and Canada’s Lawrence Macaulay. The U.K. was represented by George Eustice, parliamentary under secretary, and France by Thierry Dana, ambassador to Japan.
For dinner on Saturday Moriyama served the guests premium Kobe beef, which Japan wants to promote overseas, and sake from 90 breweries in Niigata, Japan’s largest rice producing region. The menu also included dishes with vegetables grown in neighboring Fukushima prefecture to showcase the recovery of agricultural production in the area hit by a record earthquake and a nuclear disaster in 2011.
The ministers also agreed to:
-Increase opportunities for women and youth in the agricultural sector to stimulate development.
-Expand farmers’ participation in food value chains and encourage them to participate in food processing, distribution and service sectors to boost income.
-Fight against animal and plant diseases, and biological threats.
-Establish a cooperation framework for technical information sharing among veterinary authorities in order to tackle the global common challenges in public and animal health.
-Reduce food loss and waste.
-Support international research cooperation for climate change.
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Subramaniam Sharma, Peter Vercoe
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