Professor Yasumasa Igarashi started his presentation by discussing the circumstances surrounding Kashiwan farming products after the Fukushima crisis. Located 200 kilometers from Fukushima Nuclear Power plant, Kashiwa has become a hotspot for radioactive contamination. Although the Kashiwa city government started measuring radioactivity in local farming products in July 2011, it did not restore citizen’s confidence. Local citizens have been reluctant to buy local farming products, especially after media coverage of the “nedo case”, which reported the existence of a “hyper concentrated hotspot” in Kashiwa residential area. Professor Igarashi’s project aims to cope with the local community divide caused by nuclear plant accident. In his presentation, Professor Igarashi explained how the project was implemented and evaluated.
In July 2011, Professor Igarashi organised a roundtable meeting which brought together local civic groups and stakeholders including supermarket owners, local farmers and consumers. Professor Igarashi explained that the objective of the roundtable meeting was three-fold: firstly, the meeting challenged the previous standard for the radioactive contamination and introduced a convincing measuring method for Kashiwan farming products; secondly, according to the philosophy of “local production for local consumption”, the meeting sought to cope with the crisis through face-to-face risk communication and through coproduction by local consumers and farmers. Hence, the project can contribute to establishing a trusting relationship between local stakeholders, which can turn the nuclear disaster into an opportunity for urban farmers; thirdly, the meeting aims to show a “second opinion” specialized for urban farmers and their local customers, while complementing the quality of the government’s radioactivity inspection system.
Subsequently, Professor Igarashi introduced the “Find your Farmer” project, which was launched in March 2012 – after half a year of the roundtable discussion. Rather than relying on a radioactive-free declaration, this project brings together reliable local farmers who are checking their own farm fields. Moreover, consumer volunteers can participate in a series of radioactivity measurements from farm field to measurement institute. The project has therefore established an independent standard for local farming products. Professor Igarashi contended that this is valuable not just for its scientific basis, but for the process of the long discussions among different stakeholders with different interests.
Professor Igarashi then discussed the evaluation of the project. According to his observation, all participants of the project shared a strong attachment to Kashiwa as their own community, which was the first step for mutual understanding. This project was successful in creating a human relationship between farmers and consumers, which went beyond the consumer-producer relationship. In addition, consumers subjectively shifter their purpose for participating this project from “helping the local farmers” to “getting back fresh veggies from my own town”. Professor Igarashi further discussed the limitations of the project as well as other on-going project activities.
In the Q&A session, a member of the audience wondered how political elites respond to this project. Professor Igarashi explained that there has been a division between different political groups. Given that the radioactive issue has been politicized, the opinions of political elites are often highly twisted. Professor Igarashi further contended that nationalism also plays a role in shaping people’s perspective. He argued that there is no need to exaggerate the crisis and that it is necessary to de-politicize the issue. Another member of the audience asked whether and how local NGOs play a role in this project. Professor Igarashi acknowledged the role of local civil groups in this process. He further explained that inspections taken by individual civil groups helped restore the mutual trust between farmers and consumers, given that the level of distrust was very high if the information of inspection only derives from governments. Other members of the audience asked whether the project needs support from central and regional governments and whether the project can be generalized to other countries. Professor Igarashi explained that the project can only be applied to small-scale community, which is a limitation of this model. He also said that it is necessary to develop further cooperation with governments in future project activities.
Summary prepared by Xuechen Chen