Sweet potatoes taking root in Naraha Town, Fukushima Prefecture
FUKUSHIMA, Nov. 7 – Sweet potato acreage is expanding in Naraha Town, Fukushima Prefecture. The town has expanded the production acreage to approximately 50 hectares and opened one of Japan’s largest storage facilities in cooperation with a private company. The evacuation order due to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Station was lifted seven years ago. Since then, the town has been steadily recovering with its focus on sweet potatoes.
On a sunny day in late October, Tomio Ikari, 67, dug for plump sweet potatoes. “Everyone here used to grow them privately in the garden,” recalled the chairman of the Sweet Potato Producers Association of the Sakurafutaba Region of an agricultural cooperative in Fukushima Prefecture (JA Fukushima).
The town has chosen sweet potatoes as a key item that can accelerate the recovery of the local agriculture industry, as they are in high demand and can be grown using machinery. The town started trial cultivation in 2017. It partners with Fukushima Shirohato Farm, a group company of Shirohato Food Corporation, to secure stable use of the products. Fukushima Shirohato Farm hires candidate farmers and supports them in starting their businesses, as well.
In 2020, the town built a storage facility to meet the needs for year-round shipment. The facility has large curing rooms and can store 1,260 tons of sweet potatoes. The company’s acreage is now 31 hectares, while 41 association members’ acreage is 16 hectares in total, and they grow mainly Beni-Haruka and Beni-Masari, varieties suitable for processing.
The rise of new farmers also accelerated the move. Shotaro Nagai, 29, of the company said, “Sweet potatoes are so popular today, and they are in short supply nationwide. Anticipating the future export demand, we hope to welcome many more new farmers.”
The Naraha Town plans to expand the sweet potato acreage even further by using rice paddy fields and the land returned by the government. It will also start producing dried sweet potatoes, sweet potato powder, and specialty yuzu products at a new facility, to be completed next spring, to promote the sixth industry.
“Industrial growth will bring more people. Good food will make people smile. It’s worth challenging,” Ikari said with a smile.