“The Agricultural Landscape and Ecosystem Services”
Prof. Osamu Saito, Waseda Institute for Advanced Study, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan
View the accompanying Powerpoint presentation (5.6 MB).
I will talk briefly about the ways in which the rural landscape of Japan and its neighbors in Southeast Asia has changed over the past 30 to 40 years.
As the worldwide demand for biomass such as biofuels has grown, so, too, has the volume of unused biomass. We have seen global changes in biomass utilization, with major differences between urban and rural areas. Energy and resource management have now become key issues for rural areas. As rural areas are abandoned, there has been an increase in biomass waste.
In Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, for example, the main exports are rice, food crops, and wood. About 90% of the biomass waste consists of agricultural residues such as rice husks and rice straw. These residues are not being fully utilized because they are low density, difficult to collect, and require high transportation costs. There is great potential for these residues to supply energy, but the energy demand for these resources is now lower than in the past due to the availability of fossil fuels so they go unused.
Another country dealing with the ramifications of biomass waste is Malaysia, where 86% of the world’s palm oil is produced. Malaysia’s rivers are contaminated by the waste water from the palm oil industry, and much of the country’s drinking water is polluted. When we think about how to make the palm oil industry more sustainable, we must start by getting the producers to comply with existing environmental laws. This is tantamount to making a commitment to the long-term viability of the palm oil industry in Malaysia and elsewhere. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is working to certify those producers who commit to sustainable production principles. RSPO members produce 40% of the world’s palm oil, and the group is hoping to certify 5% of the palm oil sold globally by the end of 2009.
In Japan, our institute started conducting material flow studies in the early 1990s. We looked at things such as how to increase resource productivity by using more recycled versus nonrenewable resources in the production process, and how to decrease the volume of waste being disposed of in incinerators or landfills by recovering recyclable resources from the waste stream.
What our studies revealed was that Japan’s food and forest residues were not being fully utilized. Forests cover 44% of the land area in Tokyo and 68% of the land area nationwide. Yet the utilization of biomass from our woodlands decreased by about 95% from 1950 to 2000. The government is now promoting a variety of biomass utilization programs.
Traditional Japanese agricultural practices, called satoyama, declined over the past 50 years due to rural outmigration, aging farmers, and fading rural settlements. Traditional agriculture in Japan is, in fact, decreasing more than in any other industrialized nation. Many of our rural communities are disappearing. The consequences of this transition are a decline in our food self-sufficiency and a loss of agricultural biodiversity as farming settlements are abandoned.
In satoyama, human interaction was central to the management of the landscape, as the farmers provisioned, regulated, and supported local habitats in alignment with their cultural practices.
Another key issue in Japan is the long-term sustainability of our resort industry. There are about 2,500 golf courses in Japan. Though the number of players has been decreasing since the year 2000, we still have 2,500 golf courses. About 600 of the courses have gone bankrupt, but only 20 of our 2,500 courses have been closed. Is it realistic to think that we can maintain this high volume of golf courses in the long term? To give you some perspective, the land area of metropolitan Tokyo is about twice that of Hawaiʻi Island. But there are over 800 golf courses in Tokyo, compared to a total of 17 courses on Hawaiʻi Island.
We estimate that by 2035 Japan will have between 900 to 1,000 redundant golf courses.
When we present our estimates to the golf course owners, they recognize that they need to restructure their businesses. In a general sense they agree that maintaining 2,500 golf courses is unsustainable. But the difficulty comes when we try to identify which golf courses will need to close. Our research approach to this question has been to analyze each course according to a variety of criteria, such as spatial distribution, its distance from a highway and accessibility to players, and environmental issues such as biodiversity.
Next we consider alternative uses for the courses which have already closed, including converting them to parks, cemeteries, pastureland, forestland, or biofuel production – as opposed to simply abandoning the courses. We can assess the environmental and economic impacts of the proposed alternatives, including carbon dioxide emissions as well as conversion costs for each use. Of the estimated 152 redundant golf courses in Tokyo, we have now assessed and analyzed alternative uses for these courses across a variety of criteria.
The owners of these courses never imagined that they would have to convert the courses to other uses when they were first built. And so this process is new and potentially helpful to them as they consider how to restructure for the future.