Fukushima eyes 1st post-disaster export of "ampo-gaki" persimmons this winter

16 May 2019

Farmers in Fukushima Prefecture plan to export "ampo-gaki" half-dried persimmons, a specialty of the northern Fukushima region, this winter for the first time since the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011. The plan was spelled out by prefectural government and farm cooperative officials on May 15 at a meeting on export strategy for local products. Leading the drive are the local government and the Fukushima Prefectural Headquarters of the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh), among other parties.

The first batch totaling several hundred kilograms is expected to be sent by air to Thailand. Ampo-gaki production nosedived as farmers voluntarily wound down processing of the fruit for fear of contamination by radioactive fallout from the crippled plant. But it has been rising again in recent years. Farmers hope to expand sales channels abroad on the back of the planned restart of exports to Thailand, which is increasingly taking products from Fukushima.

Planned for export are semi-dried persimmons to be produced at "Ampo Kobo Mirai," a facility in the city of Date operated by JA Fukushima Mirai, a local chapter of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) group. It is known for strict quality control, including acquisition of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) food sanitation standard. In charge of air transport will be Allied Corporation Co., a Yokohama-based company acting as an agent for sales of many agricultural products in Fukushima. Details such as export volume and when shipments will occur have yet to be fixed. The ampo-gaki shipment season usually runs from December to around March.

The prefecture is considering conducting promotions in Thailand such as tasting sessions and on-the-spot sales at department stores and supermarkets in Bangkok and elsewhere, aiming at making ampo-gaki widely known by publicizing it for its high quality and tastiness.

Ampo-gaki was exported to Taiwan and other markets abroad before the 2011 nuclear accident, but has not been exported since, according to the prefecture. Thailand removed import restrictions on food from Japan, including from Fukushima, in 2015. Currently popular there are fruits from Japan such as peaches, pears and apples.

The Fukushima government deems Thailand a litmus test for sales expansion in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, the largest export destination for prefectural rice. It plans to sell ampo-gaki in wealthy Middle Eastern countries in the future.

According to the Zen-Noh prefectural headquarters, ampo-gaki shipments through the headquarters totaled 1,231 tons in fiscal 2010 ended March 2011. But the total plummeted to around 20 tons in fiscal 2011 and 2012, immediately after the disaster, as the prefectural government urged ampo-gaki-producing municipalities mainly in northern Fukushima to refrain from processing the fruit.

Full-fledged shipments resumed in fiscal 2013 when a prefectural promotion association for ampo-gaki production areas designated model areas for resumption of processing and began testing all ampo-gaki bags for radioactive substances. Its founders include the prefectural government, local municipalities and farmers' groups in the northern Fukushima region, and other parties concerned. Shipments recovered to 930 tons in fiscal 2018.

The Fukushima government and Zen-Noh's local office believe it necessary to tap new markets to help restore shipments to pre-disaster levels. "We intend to strengthen sales promotion for the specialty fruit and broadly publicize the Fukushima brand of products," said an official of the prefectural government's section in charge of strategy for the promotion of local products.

Exports of all prefectural products (farm produce, processed food, alcoholic beverages, seafood and craftwork) totaled 644.54 million yen in fiscal 2017. Thailand was the third largest destination, taking in 81.5 million yen.

[Developments associated with ampo-gaki shipments]
- October 2011
Prefectural government requests city of Date, towns of Koori and Kunimi to refrain from processing persimmons.
- November 2011
Prefectural government requests cities of Fukushima and Minamisoma to refrain from processing persimmons.
- October 2012
Prefectural government requests seven municipalities -- cities of Fukushima, Nihonmatsu and Date, and towns of Koori, Kunimi, Kawamata and Hirono -- to refrain from processing persimmons.
- July 2013
Prefectural promotion association for ampo-gaki production areas launched
- December 2013
Shipments resumed of only ampo-gaki confirmed safe by association
- Around December 2019-March 2020
Several hundred kilograms scheduled to be exported to Thailand

(Translated by Kyodo News)