Japan Data

Japan’s Farming Population Rapidly Aging and Decreasing


Since1985 Japan’s farming population has shrunk by around 60% while the average age of farmers has steadily increased. Against this backdrop, the agricultural sector now faces a severe labor shortage.

Over the last several decades Japan’s farming population has steadily decreased as the average age of farmers has risen. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in its census on the agriculture and forestry industries found in 2015 that there were 2.09 million people engaged in agriculture, representing a decrease of 60% compared to three decades earlier. The number of people who primarily earn their living from farming was 1.75 million, marking the first time this figure has fallen below 2 million. Among those primarily engaged in agriculture, 63.5% were aged 65 or older, or 3.3 times more than 30 years ago.

At the time of the 1985 census, the farming population in Japan stood at 5.42 million. That number has dropped steadily in each of the subsequent censuses, conducted every five years, so that the statistics chart looks like descending staircase. Although the rate of decrease among those primarily engaged in agriculture has been narrowing, there is still a labor shortage, and this has been steadily weakening the production base for agricultural products.

According to the 2015 census, the average age of people primarily engaged in agriculture has increased by 7.2 years over the last decade to 67. The situation is particularly advanced in the highland and mountainous regions of Japan, where over 70% of farmers are aged 65 or older. The increasing age of farmers and subsequent decrease in labor input is considered a key factor in the growing number of fallow and abandoned agricultural fields around the country, raising concerns about farming areas going to ruin.

Japan’s aging population and low birth rate has produced a labor shortage that is being felt in many industries and it will not be easy to attract new farmers. In response, though, the government is considering introducing a new five-year visa for overseas workers in certain sectors in a bid to increase the number of foreign laborers in agriculture and other core industries.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo: © Pixta.)

agriculture elderly