Sunday, July 15, 2007

Wet wet wet

This is the 4th typhoon of the year, but the first to aim anywhere near here. In anticipation, we've had more than a day of solid rain (well, wet rain), and the typhoon hasn't even got here yet. 400mm of rain is a full rainy season's worth in one day, something like a quarter of the annual average. The winds are fading rapidly, so it's not exciting, just wet.

Most of southern and western Japan has been thoroughly soaked over the weekend, which should go some way to allaying the recent fears about water shortages. Closing swimming pools may be sensible, but the decision of some schools to switch to bread rather than rice smacks of gesture politics rather than serious policy. The proportion of water used in steaming some rice is utterly trivial, but what better way to persuade people that there is a problem than by preventing their precious children from having their daily entitlement of rice, which holds a quite religious place as the centrepiece of every Japanese meal.

Not that long ago, we were being told that water supply was too high relative to consumption. There's no pleasing some people.

3 comments:

Oliver said...

Isn't the water issue with rice the amount used to grow it (perhaps 5000l/kg, twice the amount for wheat) not the amount used to cook it?

James Annan said...

Perhaps, but somehow I doubt the message conveyed was that agriculture needs to increase its efficiency and/or change the crops grown...in Japan, rice production in particular is heavily supported by punitive tariffs on imports, and a large proportion of the farming seems to be astonishingly small Mom and Pop 2-field operations which must be hopelessly inefficient economically speaking (perhaps not in water terms).

Kooiti MASUDA said...

Japan is rich in water per area, even in drought years. But Japanese cities are
not so rich in water per capita and sometimes we have crisis. The right to use water was appropriated a century ago before much of urban development, and much weight is on agricultural use. Sometimes it is absurd that municipal utility cannot tap to now unused reserve of agricultural water. But as far as agriculture continues, I think it is usually good to keep rice grow and force urban residents to save water.

It is true that rice cultivation consume much water. But it should be also considered that paddy farming is more sustainable than dry-land farming.

Japanese agriculture is traditionally labour-intensive. A demographer quipped: In the 18th century, the British achieved industrial revolution, and the Japanese achieved industrious[-ness] revolution.

Currently Japanese agriculture is fossil-fuel intensive and moderately labour-intensive. Certainly it is not competitive in economic terms. But half of the competition is with area-extensive, fossil-fuel-intensive, labour-saving agriculture of the USA and Australia. When forced to give up fossil fuel, we can revert to the labour-intensive way (with some hardship), but they cannot. Another half is with other Asian countries with similar level of labour intensity but lower level of wages. I think that, from equity point of view (not economics), current exchange rate of Japanese Yen is too high. If the same amount of labour is valued at same price as in other Asian countries, Japanese agriculture will certainly be competitive. (It means that we Japanese should be much poorer, I know.)