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Towards Effective Countermeasures Against “Reputation Damage” | Ryota Koyama Associate Professor, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Fukushima University, Director,Industrial Recovery Support Division, Fukushima future Center for Regional Revitalization [Date of Issue: 29/November/2013 No.0225-0910]

Date of Issue: 29/November/2013

Towards Effective Countermeasures Against
"Reputation Damage"

Ryota Koyama
Associate Professor
Faculty of Economics Division and Business Administration
Fukushima University
Director Industrial Recovery Support Division
Fukushima future Center for Regional Revitalization

Preventing reputation damage requires more than plaintive assertions of safety. People need to know the reasons why it is safe and the grounds for those reasons, which in turn requires the development of inspection arrangements, as well as a mechanism for confirming inspection results at national level.

1. Current status of "reputation damage"

Two years and eight months have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred on 11 March 2011. Fukushima Prefecture continues to struggle with not only the earthquake and tsunami damage, but also the subsequent nuclear power station accident (below, nuclear accident) and the "reputation damage" this has caused. Literally, the term reputation damage might imply that "consumers who believe rumors and don't buy goods from the affected areas, even though they are really quite safe, are damaging local farmers," or that "behavior arising from belief in rumors, even though these rumors are not actually true, is putting producers in the affected areas at a disadvantage." But is this really the case? Isn't everyone a victim, including consumers as well as producers, having been affected by the failure to establish effective radioactive contamination countermeasures?

It is wrong to trivialize the radioactive contamination issue as one of producers versus consumers. "Reputation damage" suggests that producers are victims, while consumers are the perpetrators.
Not only consumers but also producers are uneasy about inadequate radioactive substance sampling surveys based on weak criteria for food and health which are subject to a range of interpretations. Producers who have had their usual operation plans disrupted by the sudden nuclear accident and radioactive contamination are completely victims, as are all those consumers who have been affected by the defects in the subsequently instituted countermeasures.

The reputation damage in relation to food products and radiation which is currently under the spotlight cannot be addressed simply by assuring people that food is safe. Rather, consumers need to be provided with persuasive reasons to feel safe, as well as the grounds for those reasons. The necessary grounds for safety comprise (1) information on the actual status of radioactive contamination in the agricultural environment, (2) elucidation of the mechanism by which agricultural produce receives radioactive contamination, as well as information on the implementation status of absorption prevention measures designed to address this, and (3) the establishment of inspection arrangements geared to the particular nature of the risk and the creation of a certification system. It must be recognized that, according to a Consumer Affairs Agency survey, 26.1 percent of consumers don't even know that inspections of radioactive contamination are being conducted. Radioactive contamination countermeasures and inspection arrangements need to be designed and implemented together within a systematized scheme.

2. Damage to Fukushima Prefecture's agriculture and Fukushima University's response

In 2010 before the nuclear accident, Fukushima's gross agricultural product was around 233.0 billion JPY, with around 70,000 farms in operation. In 2011 after the accident, gross agricultural product had shrunk by 47.9 billion JPY to 185.1 billion. Furthermore, because agriculture-related damages amounted to 62.5 billion JPY (Fukushima Prefecture Agricultural Co-operative Union; as at May 2012), the actual annual loss is estimated at around 100 billion JPY. And that is a calculation of damage simply to flow-based agricultural output.

In addition, in rural communities, local agriculture is underpinned by the various resources, organizations and personal relationships. These connections (or 'social capital') are what has shaped and maintained Japanese agriculture.

The agricultural problem resulting from the 2011 nuclear accident is not just the management issues of agricultural produce not selling because of radioactive contamination. It also includes the significant damage to the farmland which is the source of production and to the rural communities which maintain that farmland. Restoring local agriculture from the damage suffered by local communities and local farming organizations will be a major challenge.

In response to this situation, in May 2011, Fukushima University-the prefecture's only national university-established the Fukushima Future Center for Regional Revitalization (FURE). As its first initiative, FURE's Industrial Recovery Support Division set out to ascertain the actual status of contamination through a soil screening project conducted together with Shin-Fukushima Agricultural Co-operative (covering Fukushima City and Kawamata Town), the Fukushima Prefecture Consumers' Co-operative Union and the Japanese Consumers' Co-operative Union. Mobilizing some 130 volunteer measurement staff from around Japan, the project had screened around 40 percent of paddy fields and 100 percent of orchards within the Shin-Fukushima area as at September 2013 to create a precise pollution map.

The second initiative was a production-stage response, comprising experimental paddy rice cultivation in Oguni District in Ryozen, Date City, where the heavy pollution of some geographical spots resulted in their classification as "Specific Spots Recommended for Evacuation" (SSRE). The mechanism whereby rice becomes contaminated was analyzed, and the resulting effective absorption prevention measures were adopted as actual policy, contributing to a reduction in the amount of contaminated rice.

The third initiative has targeted reputation damage, drawing on the pollution map, the scientific data emerging from experimental cultivation, and expert advice in considering how to create a mechanism that enables real safety checks. Part of this initiative comprises Fukkou March? ('Recovery Markets') where university students use field survey data to explain why produce is safe, as described in some detail below.

3. Recovery Markets organized by Fukushima University students

Insofar as the 'grow local, eat local' movement not taken off in Fukushima Prefecture, it is difficult to sell agricultural produce outside the prefecture. Within the prefecture, producers and local residents (consumers) sometimes aren't eating local produce, and local produce is not necessarily being used in school lunches. If, despite this, farmers want to sell Fukushima produce for school lunches and to supermarkets to Tokyo or other parts of Japan outside the affected areas, they face problems in garnering the understanding of residents (consumers, parents) outside the prefecture. Rather than making emotional appeals as to the safety of local produce and how outside consumers should support affected areas, the first step must be to restore local consumption, requiring the development of inspection arrangements so that proper safety checks can be conducted. The purpose of Recovery Markets is to provide opportunities to restore relationships of trust in terms of local consumption of local produce.

In August 2011, Recovery Markets were held in Sapporo (Hokkaido University) and Sendai, selling peaches confirmed as safe through voluntary screening. These events were sales experiments teaming up students and radiation experts to explain radiation contamination screening to potential customers. While face-to-face sales campaigns like these are hard work, they drew an encouraging response. Accordingly, in October that year, the direct sales outlets of 18 stores came together to hold a market in Machinaka Plaza in front of Fukushima Station. Some 1,800 people participated, and sales over the two-day period topped 1.5 million JPY. Building on that success, in 2012, a Tanabata Market was held in July using the Agricultural Co-operative Building carpark in Fukushima City's northern district adjoining temporary housing facilities, followed by an autumn market in October in Machinaka Plaza, achieving similar results to 2011.

In 2013, a summer evening market was held 30-31 August. It was attended by around 2,500 people and made around 1.7 million JPY. The special feature of this year's market was that it comprised seven stalls operated by producers (primary industry), five stalls operated by processors (secondary industry), and five stalls operated by local restaurants (tertiary industry). This enabled agriculture, industry and commerce to collaborate down the supply chain, with processing firms processing local agricultural produce from producers, which was then in turn prepared by local restaurants for market visitors. Presentations were given so that visitors could witness firsthand the radiation screening and safety checks conducted at each stage of the production, processing and retailing processes. One of these presentations was a radiation measurement demonstration, with tests undertaken of local produce on sale at the market and the results explained by experts.

At the Farmers' Document and Farmers' Café events, fishermen, orchardists and members of Kaa-chan no Chikara ("Mother's Vigor"), who fled from Iitate Village and resumed agricultural activities in Fukushima City, were given the opportunity to explain directly to visitors their efforts to clean up and tackle contamination and other safety measures, as well as the struggles they have faced on the 'front lines'.

Sustained efforts of this nature are bringing about a shift from emotion-based assurances of safety to evidence-based reputation damage countermeasures, whereby opportunities are provided for consumers to ascertain safety firsthand. A key aspect of these activities is that rather than radiation, agriculture and food experts and students, farmers and consumers from the affected areas operating separately, they are working together toward the common goals of rigorous safety confirmation and provision of the data that people need for peace of mind. Our hope is that these participation-based markets that affirm safety on a face-to-face basis will help to slowly but steadily restore food and farming in the wake of the nuclear accident.

(original article : Japanese)

Recovery Markets

Recovery Markets

(For the Japanese version of this article)

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