JA's 5 units in Fukushima mull merger, other options for overhaul

A group of five Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) outposts in Fukushima Prefecture will consider reviewing their current organizational setup, with assumed options including their possible merger in line with the principle of "one JA in each prefecture" and closer partnerships among them based on the current framework for more efficient business operations. The JA units have judged it necessary to establish more solid business foundations in support of farmers to address challenging issues such as a shortage of people engaged in agriculture amid fewer children and an aging population as well as frequent natural disasters. They laid out the policy of considering such a review at a meeting of advisers held inside a JA building in Fukushima city on Oct. 1 on the agenda for a convention of the Fukushima JA group. As an agenda item for the triennial convention set for Nov. 19, a proposal for a review of the current organizational framework is to be submitted. If approved, a review panel will be organized within the JA group to kick off work on details. No deadline will be set but the JA units expect to come up with a broad outline as soon as possible, hoping to hammer out directionality three years later at the latest, or within fiscal 2024 when the next convention will take place. Elsewhere in Japan, five prefectures -- Nara, Yamaguchi, Shimane, Kagawa and Okinawa -- have a single JA organization each. If applied to Fukushima, this principle means the integration of the five local JA units: JA-Fukushima Mirai, JA-Aizu Yotsuba, JA-Yumeminami, JA-Tozai Shirakawa, and JA-Fukushima Sakura. In the event of the five being merged into one, efficient operations will become possible because each JA unit's resources such as cargo-handling facilities and grain elevators can be integrated for joint use. Other favorable effects are also expected, including low-cost procurement of materials through mass purchases, improved productivity, and higher market prices of farm produce through the enhancement of negotiating power. On the other hand, some local JA cooperative members expressed concerns such as the prospect that a single JA organization in the prefecture would be unable to provide services with sufficient care. For this reason, other options are on the table, including stronger support for members through business partnerships among the JA chapters under the current framework or between each JA entity and prefecture-wide organizations such as JA Zen-Noh Fukushima, the JA's distributor. The Fukushima JA group is set to weigh advantages and disadvantages of a merger or closer partnership and other options in search of the most efficient way forward. Before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant, there were 17 JA units in the prefecture. In an effort to rescue JA members and restore agriculture in the disaster-devastated Soma and Futaba regions, it was decided at a JA convention in 2012 to consolidate 16 units into four, excluding JA-Tozai Shirakawa. The four JA chapters were inaugurated in March 2016, ending up in the current five-JA system in Fukushima. The graphic shows Fukushima's geographical areas covered the five JA chapters. (Translated by Kyodo News)