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Betting on the Farm: Institutional Change in Japanese Agriculture

Patricia L. Maclachlan, University of Texas at Austin

March 1, 2023 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 202 Jones Hall

East Asian Studies Program

Betting on the Farm (Cornell University Press, 2022) explains variations in strategic change within Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA), the nationwide network of farm co-ops that has dominated the Japanese agricultural landscape since the mid-20th century. JA’s tradition-bound organizations are under increasing economic and demographic pressure to expand farmer incomes by adapting co-op strategies to rapidly changing market incentives, but some local co-ops are adapting more quickly and effectively than others. Drawing on insights from institutionalism theory, our book ultimately attributes these variations to three sets of local variables: the co-op’s capacity to produce foods that can earn good prices in today’s markets; the quality of co-op leadership; and the appropriate organization of farmer-members behind new co-op strategies. This book support these claims with a mix of quantitative and especially qualitative methodologies, including in-depth case studies of individual co-ops and farmers. The authors also touch on several related themes, including long-term changes to the institutional foundations of Japanese farming; the sector’s ongoing economic and demographic crisis and its implications for farm and co-op reform; the diversification of farmers and its impact on farmer ties with the JA system; and JA’s quest to find a workable balance between adapting to freer markets, on the one hand, and its longstanding responsibility to contribute public goods to local farm communities, on the other hand. We also demonstrate how years of seemingly ineffective, small-scale policy changes have had a cumulative, transformative effect on both farmers and co-ops—so much so, we argue, that pressures for further agricultural reform will likely intensify regardless of a particular government’s position on reform.

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