Earning consumer trust
Farmers in northeastern Japan are struggling to recover from the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Radioactive substances contaminated some of their crops. And consumers are still reluctant to buy food from the area even if it has been deemed safe. In this edition of Nuclear Watch, we look at how Fukushima's farmers are managing this year's harvest.
Date City is about 60 kilometers northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The main economic activity of the town is farming. Many people here grow rice.
This year, 210-thousand bags of rice were harvested within Date.
Farmers must bring all their produce to this facility for radiation checks.
Many consumers still shy away from rice harvested in Fukushima. Consumers bought just 20 percent of Fukushima-Prefecture rice put on the market last year.
Officials check every bag with radiation detectors. The central government's limit for radioactive substances in food is 100 becquerels per kilogram. But Fukushima Prefecture has set a stricter limit of 60 becquerels. Farmers cannot sell items that exceed this level.
Nothing over the limit has yet turned up at this testing center. But they say they will continue to check every single bag of rice.
"Sure, it's costly, but we believe it's necessary for the peace of mind of the people who eat our rice."
Hiroyuki Yoshida / Date City official
Agriculture has long been the prefecture's economic backbone. In the year before the disaster, Fukushima's farmers cultivated 2 billion dollars worth of produce.
The figure plummeted by more than 400 million dollars in the wake of the disaster. Farmers couldn't use fields that had been contaminated. Thorough decontamination and exhaustive radiation checks have gradually helped reverse the trend. Agricultural output began to recover in 2012, but was still about 300 million dollars short of the pre-disaster amount. Farmers say they need to do more to overcome the concerns of consumers.
And for some farmers, radiation does continue to pose a problem.
Koichi Sato grows fruit...another important crop for Date.
His main source of revenue in the winter months used to be dried fruit.
'Anpo' dried persimmons are a regional specialty and have long been an important source of income for farmers during the low season.
Sato and other farmers make the specialty by smoking and drying persimmons for about a month.
Workers decontaminated all 250-thousand of the area's persimmon trees. But radiation levels in the dried fruit were still too high. There is a reason for that.
"Drying persimmons concentrates the contamination by a factor of 4 or 5. So 10 becquerels in raw fruit becomes 50 or 60 becquerels when it's dried."
Koichi Sato / Persimmon farmer
This year, after three years of decontamination work, radiation levels in Sato's fruit have dropped low enough for him to start making Anpo again.
"The time has finally come! I'm really happy to start shipping persimmons again."
Koichi Sato / Persimmon farmer
But only a portion of Sato's products have been cleared to sell. He's still waiting for radiation levels to drop on other parts of his land.
And other farmers are also waiting for the levels to drop to below the level set by Fukushima Prefecture.
They're putting their faith and efforts into the radiation tests -- and hoping that, over time, they can restore customers' confidence in their produce.