Japan to ease public sector's grip on rice breeding


The Japanese government is seeking legislative changes to promote rice breeding by the private sector as part of efforts to advance agricultural reform.

With the ordinary Diet session to open soon, the agriculture ministry will submit a motion to jettison a 65-year-old law on seeds for key farm products.

Under this law, the public sector dominates rice breeding. Prefectures own breeding facilities, with promising varieties deemed "recommended" and in turn receiving taxpayer funding.

Newly developed rice varieties often take around a decade to reach the planting stage. And costs run to tens of millions of yen, or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Prefecture-developed rice accounts for roughly 90% of the 444 recommended varieties, with the other 10% or so developed with backing from the central government. No private-sector rice is on the list.

As a result, only a handful of varieties bred by the private sector have flourished. One is Mitsuhikari of Mitsui Chemicals Agro, which has built a pipeline between farmers and a major beef bowl chain to boost sales.

Japan is set to abolish in 2018 a decades-old government-led program for adjusting rice production. In line with this change, the government seeks to tap the vitality of the private sector to improve breeding as well.


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