People have ideas of places that they have never visited. I am no exception. When I received the IIST invitation to join the Industrial Tour to Hokkaido, I immediately decided to join because I wanted to find out how SMEs are functioning in that part of Japan, most especially those related to agriculture.
In joining the Industrial Tour, I learned more than I expected.
The substance of the tour was balanced between the SMEs in agriculture and the government institutions that supported them. On the humanities side, an introduction on the indigenous people of the Hokkaido through music and dance was balanced with visits to the Hokkaido Folks Arts Museum, the Snow Museum and the Asahiyama Zoo.
In the Yotsuba Milk Products Factory, we learned that the aim of establishing the factory was for farmers to produce their own drinking milk. Up to that time, milk or dairy production in Japan was controlled by corporation. Farmers had no control of the milk prices and were under the mercy of the big players. Farmers were vulnerable.
In the milk factory, we learned that milk was provided by farmers who grow cows in their own farms. Milk is collected by the cooperative. Extension and other services to grow cows are provided by the cooperative. The cooperative is run by the municipality, which is a good example of municipal assistance to farmers.
After the milk factory visit, we had a briefing from the municipality officials on how the government provided assistance to farmers. They explained the importance of farmers to the whole economy. We were also informed that Hokkaido has three pillars to promote economic development, to wit, increase in sales of Hokkaido products, attract more tourists to visit Hokkaido and lastly to have more foreign investments in Hokkaido. Hokkaido has been able to attract investors in the tourism and real estate industries as more Australian vacationers go Hokkaido to enjoy skiing in the Alpine like powder snow. It has also made inroads in foreign markets for its agricultural products.
During dinner we were introduced to the Ainu Culture, the natives of Hokkaido. Ainu dances reflected the worship of nature, where all things are to be respected because they see God in all things.
The following day we started with a briefing at the JA (Japan Agricultural Cooperatives) Obihiro-Kawanishi. We then observed the production and packing of Chinese yams. The yams are best suited for growing in this part of Hokkaido due to rainfall and soil conditions in the area. Chinese yam was chosen because it is consumed in big quantities outside of the prefecture. This was a good example of government and farmer cooperation in selecting a product for production and promotion.
We then proceeded to and received an explanation on how the government provided lands and facilities for cows from the time they are calves to grazing on municipal lands.
The Farm is another fine example of farmer and government cooperation. The objective of the farm to gstreamline dairy production by maintaining a feed supply basedh has transformed a vast area that is used for grazing into a tourist destination also. In the farm, it was explained calves can be brought to the farm to graze. For a fee, cattle and horses can be kept on behalf of the owner farmers. As it values its relationships with consumers, the farm holds festivals and other events to promote the wholesome atmosphere. We learned that a farm can perform its mandate and at the same time perform and promote its functions in a way to improve its image and attract tourists, just as well. In addition, the farm also teaches schoolchildren the rudiments of sausage making. We left the Yachiyo Farm with the impression that faming and tourism can coexist. In fact some members of the Study Tour ask for staying rates at the farm because it was a place where one can go back and relive the joys of childhood, in an ideal farm.
The Furano Wine and Juice Factory was another example of how government can help local farmers by selecting the product to propagate, in this case vineyards. In the Tomita Lavender Farm, we realized how a manfs dream can change his environment. In this case Mr. Tomita wanted to produce essential oils from lavender and in the process he also made his Lavender farm, the locality and Hokkaido, a tourist destination. Again, this was an agricultural pursuit that turned out to be a good tourist earner. It was said that tens of thousands of tourists come to visit the Tomita Farm every year to bask in the glow of the fields and enjoy the smell the lavender.
The last day of the study tour was visits to Asahiyama Zoo, the Hokkaido Folk Arts and Craft Village, and the Snow Museum. The Zoo is a living testament to what can be done by people who love animals. With sheer dedication and hard work, the zoo workers were able to avert the closure of the zoo and the eventual displacement of the animals. The zoo keepers were able to design a facility that is enjoyed by everybody, in all weather conditions. It is no wonder that the Zoo is now Japanfs most famous.
As we were flying out of Asahikawa, the rhythm of Ainu music reverted in my mind with images of the success of the Zoo. The transformation of the Zoo took place because people in Hokkaido are close to Nature, the land that beckons to those who recognize its potentials.
I would like to express my deep appreciation for a well organized tour to all the IIST staff who accompanied with us. The visits to the agricultural cooperatives of Hokkaido gave ideas on how close relationship between farmers and the government can be enhanced in order to make them a more productive part of the economic development of the country. Further, I would like to acknowledge that the Industrial Tour gave time for participants to interact with each other for an exchange of ideas on how to enhance closer working relationships in our daily work as diplomats.
Institute for International Studies and Training (IIST)
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