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Pursuing a sustainable food supply system at the joint research of agriculture, bioscience and social science

Sustainable Food Supply, Agriculture, Bioscience Institute

Based on Waseda Vision 150, our new plan for reforming university management, Waseda University is seeking to achieve the ideal form of our university by our 150th anniversary in 2032 through the establishment of strategic research centers which are centered on the themes of “agriculture (bioscience, food),” “environment and energy,” “super-aged society,” and “a society offering safety and peace of mind.” This is part of a new research partnership field which utilizes Waseda's strengths as a comprehensive university. Moving toward these goals, Waseda University began full-scale activities in the 2014 academic year to create an educational and research institute which specializes in agriculture, the first such institute at our school.

The Sustainable Food Supply, Agriculture, Bioscience Institute was founded within the Waseda University: Organization for University Research Initiatives. Furthermore, we also started a joint research project entit system integrating agriculture, led “Sustainable Food Supply Systems—based on an interdisciplinary researchbioscience and social science.” The ultimate goal is to form a platform for creating a new food-agriculture field which is only possible at Waseda University, which does not possess an agricultural school. The Sustainable Food Supply, Agriculture, Bioscience Institute is positioned as an umbrella organization for such research. In this article, Institute Director and Professor (Faculty of Human Sciences) Masahiro Amano discusses projects implemented within the broad vision of the institute.

Professor Masahiro Amano (Faculty of Human Sciences), Director of the Sustainable Food Supply, Agriculture, Bioscience Institute

More than 40 participating researchers from throughout Waseda University

“It is no longer possible to guarantee sustainable development and production systems through the market economy alone. In order for corporate society to shift toward environmental management which balances sustainability and profit, we need new production and supply systems which differ from conventional agriculture and food.” (Professor Amano.)

By utilizing its strengths as a comprehensive university, Waseda is promoting the formation of a food-agriculture institution through multidisciplinary integration. Researchers have gathered from fields including environment and energy, forestry and ecology, food science, and agricultural economics. (Figure 1) There are more than 40 participating members from within Waseda University. This number rises to nearly 50 researchers when including partners from outside our university. Focus is placed on three research fields: 1) production systems which surpass conventional agriculture frameworks and delegate responsibility to diverse stakeholders, 2) food-agriculture scientific technology for safety, peace of mind and promotion of health, as well as systems to disseminate related information, and 3) new systems and new governance (collaborative governance) for balancing environmental development and sustainable food-agriculture systems. (Figure 2)

Figure 1: Research system at Sustainable Food Supply, Agriculture, Bioscience Institute

Figure 2: Three research themes at Sustainable Food Supply, Agriculture, Bioscience Institute

Through the activities of Honjo Waseda Research Park on the Honjo Campus, a research foundation for conducting demonstration experiments in society has already been formed to a certain extent. In addition to agriculture workers, these social experiments include themes such as consumer participation, cooperation with NPOs and municipalities, partnerships with other industries, and realization of an integrated agriculture industry spanning from production to consumption. Via a partnership among municipalities, citizens and businesses in the industrial, academic, government and privates sectors, a variety of other community-based research projects have been implemented. Examples include the creation of sustainable suburban communities, conservation and learning activities for undeveloped areas located close to populated areas, development of new businesses and products through an agriculture-commerce-industry alliance, and formation of regional smart cities. (Refer to photographs below.)

Top left photograph: Taken during Satoyama School, a program for studying the ecology of undeveloped woodlands. Bottom left photograph: A joint agriculture-social welfare project which delegates responsibility to disabled individuals (tour of olive oil press). Right photograph: Food and Agriculture Festival held on the Waseda Honjo Campus every autumn. In addition to sales and tastings of local agricultural products and livestock products, features a variety of events and provides an opportunity for interaction between local producers and citizens.

Cutting-edge experiments for delegating responsibility to diverse individuals

The project for delegating responsibility consists of demonstration experiments intended to form a deeper connection between consumers and people supporting agriculture, as well as to involve consumers in the production and supply systems by having them share responsibilities. Utilizing grants from the W-Bridge Project, experimental projects have been started through cooperation with Simosato-Gakkou, an NPO which uses the buildings of a closed school in Ogawa Town (Saitama Prefecture) to implement projects such as interaction between urban areas and mountain/farming villages, allotment gardening, and cultivation of organic vegetables and organic rice. Another noteworthy partner is Junko Owada, who is Joint President of Lohas Business Alliance and first introduced LOHAS (Lifestyles Of Health And Sustainability) to Japan.

Simosato held events for interaction between urban areas and mountain/farming villages.

Homepage of Simosato-Gakkou (NPO)

By involving urban residents who use farmland, the project pursues a new system and lifestyle that fuses the production and consumption of food and agriculture. Furthermore, it establishes new evaluation methods which incorporate natural science methodology. Specifically, the relationship between organic farming methods and biodiversity in undeveloped woodlands is explored, with measurement and calculation being performed for the amount of water used and amount of CO2 released during farming. This value is then expressed as visible criteria. (Figure 3)

Figure 3: Establishment of systems and policy for sustainable and environmentally-friendly agricultural production

“Since long ago, undeveloped woodlands and compost farming composed a system for preserving diversity in an ecosystem. However, such methods are difficult to evaluate in today's economic system. Conducting economic evaluation and incorporating findings into market value is one of our research themes. Recently, the United Nations has proposed bringing to the market the concept of “ecosystem credits,“ an idea similar to CO2 credits. Without active evaluation of ecosystems, there is the danger that high-quality ecosystems will vanish from our planet one after another.” (Professor Amano.)

For governance of good and agriculture through collaborative governance

Another important research theme is establishing a mechanism for providing information that guarantees safety and peace of mind for food. Through participation from food science researchers, the institute is advancing projects for food innovation in dietary habits promoting health. For example, researchers are developing functional food products which are scientifically safe and effective. Moreover, through joint research with researchers in fields such as behavioral economics and social psychology, the institute seeks to create a mechanism for providing information on safety and peace of mind. (Figure 4)

Figure 4: Image of future food supply system realizing safety and peace of mind

“We cannot guarantee peace of mind for consumers simply by stating that food is scientifically safe. In addition to providing solid scientific backing, we must also consider what kind of information and knowledge must be provided to realize peace of mind and trust. We must establish new technology and content systems.” (Professor Amano)

Professor Amano is in charge of governance research for food and agriculture. This research focuses on multilayered governance systems spanning from governance for local communities to governance related to assuring food security in global society. Unlike the previous concept of governance, autonomy and sovereignty through citizen participation are now strongly emphasized. Collaborative governance delegating responsibility to various individuals is a form of local governance in countries and regions. At the same time, it also refers to forming partnerships between advanced nations and developing nations.

“As an environmental expert, I have witnessed first-hand how environmental destruction in developing nations is deeply related to the dietary lifestyle of Japanese people. One example is Borneo Island in Indonesia. In order to expand production of vegetable oil, the native forests have been cut down and palm trees have been planted. As a result, in the short term, Indonesia passed China and America as the world's biggest emitter of CO2. When undeveloped wetlands are turned into palm tree farms, the drying of the wetlands causes peat buried underground to break down, thus releasing a large amount of CO2. In the background of such development is the huge demand for vegetable oil from major food manufacturers that produce instant ramen noodles. Therefore, in order to stop the development, Japanese corporations and Japanese consumers must make a conscious decision to alter their behavior—we need a mechanism for changing people's attitudes toward food and agriculture. There is a direct connection among local projects in Japan, global food security, and global environmental conservation.” (Professor Amano)

As an advanced nation, when Japan considers production and supply systems for food and agriculture, it must respond to the demand of discerning consumers for food with high quality and value. On the other hand, in view of how global society faces the issues of increased population and food shortages, Japan must also consider how to support global food security by supplying the needed amount of food. Although a dilemma exists between these two themes, Japan must devise a method that solves them both. Moreover, both themes require technologies and systems for supplying safe food with peace of mind. As such, there are great expectations for efforts by the Sustainable Food Supply, Agriculture, Bioscience Institute to establish a future system of collaborative governance for food and agriculture.

Related links

Waseda University: Sustainable Food Supply, Agriculture, Bioscience Institute
Honjo Waseda Research Park (Public Interest Incorporated Foundation)
Waseda University: Organization for University Research Initiatives
Waseda University: Faculty of Human Sciences
Waseda University: Faculty of Science and Engineering