TOKYO: Japan aims to quadruple exports of rice and rice products to 100,000 tons in 2019, the agriculture ministry said Friday, but the food staple’s price abroad may hinder the effort. Exports last year totaled about 24,000 tons, of which roughly 10,000 tons consisted of rice consumed as a staple. The equivalent of around 11,000 tons was exported in the form of sake, while the remaining 3,000 tons went in rice crackers.
Sake exports have risen sharply in recent years, hitting a record 15.5 billion yen ($143 million) in 2016 for a seventh straight annual increase. This boom in popularity is global, with varieties such as those pairing well with French cuisine popping up in places like Paris. But rice exports as a staple food reached a mere 2.7 billion yen last year, and branding strategies employed for sake and wagyu beef may not work in this case. In markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore, Japanese rice is a lot pricier than other exports. The products are too expensive for regular consumers, said an executive at the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations. To make Japanese rice affordable to middle-class consumers abroad, farmers need to grow more high-yield varieties. But government subsidies to grow rice used for animal feed serve as a disincentive for farmers to shift to high-yield crops.