“Ask rice about rice, ask farmers about agriculture”

“Ask rice about rice, ask farmers about agriculture” – “米について質問し、農業について農家に尋ねる” – ENOMOTO Takeaki, founder of Tokyo University of Agriculture

Jocelyn McLaren is a 4th year BSc (Hons) Forest Management student at the Scottish School of Forestry, Inverness College UHI. Jocelyn recently attended the two-week International Student Summit at the Tokyo University of Agriculture in Japan with her lecturer Amanda Bryan and fellow student Jonathan Hawick. Here, she recalls her experience and the presentation they gave on Integrated Land Use in Scotland.

“In the first week we participated in a course called CIEP – Comprehensive International Education Programme, which involved 12 students from 7 countries going on visits, doing farm work and hearing lectures to gain knowledge and creating a presentation about the state of agriculture in Japan to share with each other.

Integrated_Land_Use_ConferenceWhat I didn’t realise is that the average Japanese farm is around 5 hectares. This means very little machinery or what they do have is small scale. We planted and weeded fields by hand on an organic farm. This farm grew things you might expect such as broccoli, spinach, aubergine, green pepper as well as things you may have never heard of like Japanese cabbage, Japanese mustard spinach and kuushinsai. It was hard work, but very enjoyable and a good way to get to know all the other students. We visited Boso no Mura and the National Museum of Japan so we could get a feel for the past and the Kanagawa Agriculture Technology Center and Atsugi Nodai campus to get a feel for the future. PHD students presented us with their projects about light quality, animal reproduction and morphogenesis.

The project that most interested me from Kanagawa was about training and grafting of pear trees to allow for easier harvest. Trees are grown at a wide spacing and then after they reach a certain height, bent over and grafted to one another to create a straight line. The branches are also trained across a wide net to grow at a certain height. This way, farmers harvesting can quickly and easily walk up and down the rows to collect the fruit without the use of a ladder. We saw this both at the technology centre in research phases as well as in practice on an actual farm. They were kind enough to give us some samples and they were easily the most delicious pears I’ve ever eaten.

IMG_4963I stayed in a dorm room with three other girls from Ukraine, Mongolia and Japan. This meant learning a lot of other cultures very quickly. My friend Anzhelika from Ukraine came from a large farm and was expecting huge technological advances in large scale machinery. What we really saw was agricultural advances more suitable to the types of farms in Japan such as new species breeding and advancements in rice crops. It became clear to us that although there are similarities in our techniques, there is no one size fits all solution in different climates, geographic areas, and economic systems. This would become even more prevalent in the upcoming summit presentations.

After the quick two-day weekend break, it was back to our work for the International Student Summit. The first couple of days were spent practicing and making small tweaks to our own presentation, with the remainder spent listening to all the countries delegates talk about this year’s theme: “Students taking actions to increase youth involvement in sustainable agriculture and to close the gap between actors in the food system.”

IMG_5278Our presentation covered the issues plaguing Scottish land managers and the University of the Highlands and Island s present solution: The Integrated Land Use Conference. The conference brings together several land-based education programmes from within UHI to visit sites in the Cairngorms and listen to professional speakers. If you would like more information about this, you can visit: https://www.uhi.ac.uk/en/iluc/ . We had an excellent response from other students and staff advisors, including interest in attending. Another popular theme from a few areas was the expansion of Agroforestry. This is a practice in which either crops or livestock are raised among tree species. It can be used to diversify income streams which allows for a more stable farm.

There were 31 presentations from 26 countries covering a wide range of issues. It truly highlighted the economic inequality between countries. While some presentations were looking to reduce food waste or use increased capital to decrease agricultural emissions, some countries were looking at ways to tackle farmer illiteracy or reduce poverty by introducing small scale farming to impoverished areas. It was clear that smaller markets have a huge challenge when it comes to exporting and matching costs of bigger more industrial companies or countries. All of the presented issues and solutions are certainly worthy of praise, but this conference shone a big light on the world’s inequality.

As much as our issues were different, there were common themes among us. One of them being that the farming population is ageing and that there is not enough youth coming into agriculture to replace them. The second was the need to break down barriers in communication so that all people can be heard and understood. This led into our decision for next year’s theme: “Youth transforming thoughts on sustainable agriculture and resource management to connect local and global communities.”

Talking to all these different people allowed me an amazing international view. The quote titling this blog was one that really resonated with me and is applicable in all aspects of research and education. “Ask rice about rice, ask farmers about agriculture.” In the future, we can ask the youth about youth involvement in agriculture. We can ask foresters about the trees. It’s something easy that we all often forget.

If you have any other questions about our presentation or the summit, please feel free to email me at 15001991@uhi.ac.uk.

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