Vietnam’s rice paddies offer Japan’s farmers chance to grow

Local cultivation in emerging Asian markets proves cheaper than exports

HIDEKI SHINOHARA, Nikkei staff writer

A woman wearing a traditional hat sits in a rice field outside Hoi An, Vietnam. © Reuters

NIIGATA, Japan — Japan’s rice farmers are venturing into the rest of Asia to grow their crops locally. Supported by an increase in the number of Japanese restaurants across the region, the farmers are teaming up with locals to apply their expertise, hoping to ride the strong brand power that Japonica rice enjoys.

The trend lets locals indulge their taste in high-quality Japanese rice without paying stratospheric prices for imported versions, as some wealthy Chinese are doing.

In mid-November, Ofukuro Tei, a Japanese restaurant in Hanoi, began selling rice grown in Vietnam but developed by Japanese rice producer Ajichi Farm. Three types of rice — Akisakari, Koshihikari and Hanaechizen — were selling for about 500 yen ($4.41) per 2kg, less than half the price of the export variety.

Ajichi Farm, based in Fukui Prefecture, started test cultivation last spring, setting up Inakaya, a joint venture with a Vietnamese agricultural corporation in autumn. The company has started growing rice in Nam Dinh Province, about 100km southeast of Hanoi.

Due to higher temperatures than in Japan, the company decided to double-crop rice in February-June and July-November. It has also chosen suitable varieties like Koshihikari. Inakaya will use a local partner’s facilities to dry and polish the rice.

Rice grown by Fukui-based Ajichi Farm is sold at a Japanese restaurant in Hanoi in mid-November.

Takenori Ito, CEO of Ajichi Farm, visited Vietnam almost every month to ensure that strict soil management and other cultivation technologies were being implemented. The company also had Vietnamese managers visit paddy fields in Fukui.

Ajichi Farm faced a number of problems, such as rice grains not developing properly, due to differences in weather between Japan and Vietnam. According to Ito, this is not an insurmountable problem, and he noted, “Local farmers know how to grow rice, so we can [help them] grow Japanese varieties.”

Starting last summer, Ajichi Farm increased rice acreage in Vietnam from 1.5 hectares to 10 hectares and started selling its product in the country. “We want to tap the Vietnamese market using the brand power of Japanese rice,” said Ito. The company aims for annual production of 10,000 tons and annual sales of 2 billion yen.

The growing popularity of Japanese food has prompted Japan’s agricultural corporations and food-processing companies to boost their rice production in other Asian countries. There were about 69,300 Japanese restaurants in Asia in 2017, up 50% from 2015, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

“Ajichi Farm’s rice is cheaper and of better quality than rice imported from Japan,” said Keiichi Miyata, president of Japanese restaurant Ofukuro Tei. “We will serve it at our restaurant if we can purchase it in bulk.”

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