22 Mars 2016
March 20, 2016
By TORU FURUSHO/ Staff Writer
KAWAMATA, Fukushima Prefecture--Farmers here have started growing flowers using polyester "soil" in the hope that the cultivation method will dispel concerns among consumers about radioactive contamination from the nuclear disaster.
The farmers are being helped by a team from Kinki University's Faculty of Agriculture in Higashi-Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, and have started cultivating anthurium ornamental plants utilizing the soil, which is made up of filamentous polyester fabrics.
“This cultivation method allows us to grow plants without concern over the negative impact of the nuclear accident,” said Yukichi Takahashi, a 76-year-old farmer who is a key member of the project. “My dream is that our flowers will be used in bouquets to be presented to athletes on the podium during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”
In a test run, 2,000 anthurium plants, known for their colorful, heart-shaped flowers, were grown in a 30-meter-long greenhouse in the Ojima district of Kawamata, located about 50 kilometers northwest of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Local farmers who participate in the project will set up an agricultural corporation later this year with the aim of eventually starting full-fledged farming and shipment.
The project began in spring 2014 after the university researchers learned about the plight of local farmers when they visited to measure radiation levels in the town, which is located on a high plateau surrounded by mountains.
“By using polyester fabrics as a cultivation medium instead of ground soil, this new method will help protect Fukushima farmers from harmful rumors that may stem from consumers’ concerns over soil contamination,” said project leader Takahiro Hayashi, a professor of horticulture at the university, which is known for its advanced aquafarming and agricultural programs.
Kawamata once prospered through livestock and tobacco farming, but the nuclear disaster, triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, dealt a heavy blow to the area’s agricultural industry by spreading a large amount of radioactive fallout.
A southeastern strip of the town is still designated as a “zone being prepared for the lifting of the evacuation order,” and local residents remain evacuated from the district in temporary housing and elsewhere.
While radiation levels in the town’s agricultural produce have passed safety tests, consumers’ lingering concerns over possible contamination have undercut market competitiveness.