Local to Local

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Kitchen Scraps Become Fertilizer for Farmers

Kitchen Scraps Become Fertilizer for Farmers
Nagai, Yamagata Prefecture
Written by Sanada Kuniko
Photos by Sugawara Chiyoshi

Nagai has only 33,000 people, but its composting efforts have caught the attention of the whole nation. The city has a rural setting in Yamagata Prefecture, north of Tokyo. The fastest way to get there from Tokyo is by bullet train, then two local train lines - a journey of about three hours.

Here, farmers who produce organic food, consumers, and the municipal government are working together to promote the aims of their recycling plan, which was adopted approximately 10 years ago. The official name of the plan is Nagai Kitchens and Farms, but everyone just calls it the Rainbow Plan. The Compost Center, the key facility envisioned by the plan, began operations in February 1997. It cost 580 million yen to build.

Sato Yuichi, of the city's Rainbow Plan Promotion Bureau, told us that the recycling efforts are paying off - the city has reduced the amount of kitchen scraps it incinerates by almost 70%.

In most cities, kitchen scraps are thrown out with the garbage, then incinerated or buried in landfill sites. Nagai's Rainbow Plan changes that, and it does more - it converts household organic waste into fertilizer for farmers, improving the soil and reducing the need for pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The final goal is to get more local producers to farm organically.

About 4,900 households in the urban part of Nagai separate kitchen scraps from other garbage. They remove as much water from the scraps as they can, then place them in recycling buckets. Twice a week, they take the contents of the buckets to containers situated at neighborhood pickup points. Municipal garbage trucks take the waste to the Compost Center, where it is mixed with animal manure, rice husks and other organic material. The mixture ferments for about 80 days, turning into a rich, ready-to-use fertilizer which is bagged and sold (a 15-kg bag sells for ¥280).

About 50 farmers use this fertilizer, thereby meeting one condition for certification as organic farmers under the Rainbow Plan. Their produce is sold in supermarkets and morning markets, and eventually contributes to the next generation of compost.

Kanno Yoshihide, a farmer who raises rice and free-range chickens, is an important participant in the Rainbow Plan. Actually, it was his idea to recycle kitchen scraps into fertilizer. He says the plan succeeds because the fertilizer produced by composting is of excellent quality, and because the growers learned how to use the fertilizer effectively. Farmers in the Nagai area are actively involved in the plan, ensuring its success.

"Our timing was good," Kanno says, "because we started just when people were realizing the need to do things in an environmentally friendly way. Producers and consumers have a strong attachment to their own area, so they naturally want to protect and improve the local environment. I suppose that this desire develops more easily in a small community than in a large city, but it will one day spread throughout the country. Another reason for the plan's success is that our mayor is 100% behind it. The Rainbow Plan works because producers, consumers and the municipal government support it."

Underlying the Rainbow Plan is the desire to work in harmony with the environment. The people of Nagai show that we cannot wait for someone else to protect the environment - each one of us has to change his or her own way of thinking, and then act.

Source; http://web-japan.org/nipponia/nipponia7/sp05.html


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