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I. Family Management Agreement: The Experience of Rural Areas in Japan
Sumiko Abe
Japan Agricultural Development and Extension Association (JADEA)
Japan, 2009-03-24

Abstract

The Family Management Agreement is widely promoted in Japan in addressing the modernization of farm management system and consequently, in improving agricultural productivity. This paper described how the agreement was accepted in rural areas of Japan, and the changes it brought to farm households' lives. In 2006, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries conducted a survey on the status of the Family Management Agreement. It showed that since its implementation in 1995, more than 30,000 farm household members have already signed the agreement. The determination of policies of farming management was most (85.8%) agreed upon by the respondents. The Rural Life Research Institute conducted another research study among 950 farm households which signed the agreement, seventy-two percent (72%) of which expressed satisfaction on the agreement. It also revealed that the agreement has gradually helped in advancing the division of roles between men and women in the total farm management and the improvement of the working environment conditions for women. These findings were further supported by the interviews among satisfied farm holders conducted in 2001 by the Agricultural Development and Extension Center. Currently, the equal participation of men and women in rural communities is being realized through the concept of "partnership". In terms of farm and total financial management and daily life operations, men and women under the agreement shared equal responsibilities. These directly contributed to more women's participation and better farm management. The Family Management Agreement has promoted the improvement of women's situation as farm and domestic workers and has contributed to the formation of a gender-equal society. Further, the agreement served as a medium for creating a comfortable working condition for rural women.

Key words: family management agreement, farm management, farm operation, daily life operations, partnership, gender-equal society, women farmers

Rural Women during the Former and Present Agricultural Standard Laws

The Agricultural Standard Law enacted in 1961 stated that, "the welfare of farmers should be improved by the rationalization of women's work in rural areas" (Article 2, Section 1, Clause 8.). According to the Manual for the Agricultural Standard Law written by the Cabinet Office of the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, the rationalization of women's work was approved and stipulated in the said law due to the sense of crisis concerning rural communities. Women's work in rural areas was excessively heavier compared to those women in urban areas. If such a situation would continue to be neglected, it was feared that improvements in modern farming and farmers' welfare would be impossible. The law, thus, anticipates that such rationalization would enable farmers to enjoy life already enjoyed by non-farmers.

As such, reform in rural women's farming work was considered essential to modernize farm management and increase farm productivity. Stabilizing women's status as an assistant laborer in modern family farming and facilitating domestic work with the development of activities to improve farmers' life were part of this reformation.

In 1965, the International Labor Organization issued the Employment (Women with Family Responsibilities) Recommendation (R123) to Japan. It emphasized that it was a global standard that women (with family) were still supposed to be responsible for their family. The provision was also included in the former Agricultural Standard Law (1961) which primarily aimed to raise rural women's status as that of the level of urban workers. It seemed to be regarded as a step to reduce the rural women's work.

The provision was then followed by several action to address this concern.. In 1975, during the International Women's Year, a new position was suggested to rural women in the World Plan of Action. It was followed then by the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women held in 1979. Also in 1981, the Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention (C156) was corroborated which stipulated that the share of family responsibilities and employment should be adjusted regardless of gender.

In and after 1965, Japan went through a period of rapid economic growth, which led to the increase of semi-business farm households, aging of farmers and decrease in population in rural areas. Also, women came to account for 60 percent of the total agricultural population. These facts changed the social framework in Japan- men as the "breadwinner" while women as men's assistants and homemakers. Women's consciousness actively and dramatically changed during these times. It was undeniable that female farmers were playing the important and practical roles, not only as a partner of the farm management but also as a maintainer of rural villages. In the aspects of agricultural administration as well, the effort towards the Family Management Agreement placed female farmers not as a mere worker but as a partner.

Thus, it is not too much to say that these changes led to the provisions of Article 26 of the Basic Law on Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas constituted in 1999 in order to improve rural women's status. In addition, in June 1999, the Basic Law for a Society of Equal Participation of Men and Women" was implemented. Following these two basic laws, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, established the Guidelines to a Gender-equal Society on November 1, 1999. It featured active support for promoting women's enterprise and the family management agreement.

Studies on Family Management Agreement

Family Management Agreement Signed by Over 30,000 Farm Households

Since 1995, the provisions of the Family Management Agreement have been actively encouraged nationwide in cooperation with the regional agricultural committees and the agricultural development and extension associations.

The Agricultural Extension Service Division, a section of the Management Improvement Bureau, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries conducted a survey of the present state of the Family Management Agreement in July, 2006. Based on the results, the number of farm households who signed the Family Management Agreement increased by 2,401 compared with the figure as of March, 2005, this made a total of 34,521.

The results of the study were summarized as follows:

Among those who signed, sixty-five percent (65%) were monocultural farm household. Monocultural farm household is defined as "the farm household whose sales of the best-selling are farm products dominate over 80% of the total household sales." Of this percentage, 18.9% was engaged in vegetable farming, 11.2% in fruits and 10.7% in stockbreeding farming.

Approximately, 50.4% of those who signed the Family Management Agreement were a managerial couple, followed by 16.1% of the three-party agreement (among a managerial couple and their successor). Then, 10.3% made the four-party agreement (among a managerial couple and a successoral couple).

With regards to the defined contents of the family management agreement, determination of the policies of farming management was agreed by 85.8% of the respondents, followed by working hours and holidays (84.3%), division of farming roles (division of tasks, bookkeeping) (73.4%) and reward for labor (daily pay, monthly pay) (69.4%).

Within the field of daily life operation, division of roles in daily life (housekeeping, social interaction) was the most defined (42.8%), much lower compared with the contents in the field of production mentioned above. Division of agricultural roles [related industrial and commercial activities (processing, sales) included] accounted for 22.5% and participation in social and community activities were agreed by 20.6% of the respondents. The contents of agreement agreed by over 70% were related to the division of roles in the total farm management and the improvement of the working conditions.

Effects of Family Management Agreement among Farm Households

In a research conducted by Rural Life Research Institute in January, 2000 among 950 farm households (2400 persons). The number of those respondents accounted for a little less than 10% of the total 12,000 farm households who had signed the Family Management Agreement.

The results showed that 35% of the respondents were satisfied while 37% were rather satisfied with the agreement. It means that 72% of the respondents rated the agreement within a satisfying level. On the other hand, only 53% of the successors, especially the successoral wives responded that they were satisfied or rather satisfied with the agreement.

Also, it was noted that the "successors", especially the successoral wives, had few opportunities to give their opinions before signing the agreement and that the agreement didn't include enough contents related to "successors". It could be assumed that the successoral generation has no chance to get involved in the agreement because they are newly wed and/or busy taking care of their children. Thus, it was suggested that the demands of these successoral wives be also considered.

The changes after the Family Management Agreement was exercised were also studied. Thirty-three percent (33%) responded that the division of tasks was defined, while thirty-percent (30%) felt that they became more conscious of their own status as a partner. Moreover, thirty-percent (30%) also enjoyed more talk within their family members, and 27% admitted that they became more motivated to work. Generally, many managerial wives remarked on their growing consciousness as a partner, and many successors mentioned of their greater motivation to work.

For the fair assessment of roles of each family member in farming operation, the Family Management Agreement included the effective contents concerning reward for labor, participation in management policies, determination of working hours and holidays, division of roles in both farming and domestic work, participation in social activities and so on. Thus, it seemed that the Family Management Agreement has been practically used to advance the division of roles in the total farm management and the improvement of the working environment and conditions. In addition, the survey results showed that the agreement has gradually proved its effectiveness toward the realization of attaining those hopes.

Voices from Farm Households Carrying Out Family Management Agreement

In October 2001, the Agricultural Development and Extension Center in Morioka issued the newsletter from Morioka Regional Farmers' Network for Family Management Agreement in Iwate Prefecture entitled: "Family Management Agreement is a Wonder." This newsletter presented the farmers' comments on the agreement.

T, Kuzumaki Town

"I often have a meeting with my wife and daughter, and we check the health condition and the volume of milk of our cows. I am glad that both quality and quantity of our milk are improving and that my wife and daughter come up with good ideas for the management. Now they take care of milking, so I can concentrate on taking care of the pasture."

K, Nishine Town

"When the income tax return due date was approaching, the wife used to occupy the room to work on the checks and receipts and gets into a panic both mentally and physically. However, after the agreement, the tasks were divided, and now the husband enters the data into the computer and the wife prepares the document to file a blue form for the income tax return. Now we are familiar with our farm management and it takes us much shorter time to keep the books than before."

Y, Morioka City

"The third party helped us make the agreement, and now we have a clear sense of purpose. Also, we feel that the agreement closely united the family."

S, Nishine Town

"Now the husband is in charge of paddy rice and the wife takes care of spinach. We are responsible for the working plan respectively. The lists of our plans are posted, and that makes it easier for us to give instructions to our part-timers. "

Generally, it was concluded that many farmers stated that the Family Management Agreement was effective in improving work, cutting costs of production, smoothing the financial management, among others. Moreover, it was noted that the Family Management Agreement could function as an encouragement toward the establishment of individuality of each family member (e.g., independent participation and having an opinion) and the formation of the partnership- which further promotes participation in the farm management. A manager of a pot seedling farm in Aichi Prefecture made a comment on this.

"Before signing the Family Management Agreement, we just relied on each other because of the unclear sharing of tasks and there was negative influence on the farm management such as the deterioration of our product quality. However, after the agreement defined the division of roles, we came to feel more responsible for the management of our farm. Now we make sure of each other's tasks and it has enhanced the quality of our products. And what is better, my wife came to make decisions on her own and it has brought us a wider range of work and more opportunities of adventurous tries."

Thus, from these statements, it could be noted that the agreement has promoted the independent participation of family members in the farm management and the equal responsibilities and performances of the tasks led to further create motivation and managerial development.

Demonstration of Women's Ability As a Partners

The effect and changes in rural communities brought about by the Family Management Agreement were discussed above. Looking back on the development of the Family Management Agreement since 1995 up to date, there was remarkable increase in the number of farm households who signed the agreement (especially from 2001-2002), and some new movements to improve the quality of the agreement such as the refinement of the contents as were also put into action.

Today, the equal participation of men and women in rural areas is being considered nationwide, and its key concept is the establishment of the "partnership." Partnership is defined as a "joint management in which each family member engaged in agriculture plays an equally significant role". The family members share the managerial policies and common goals, their rights and duties are clearly defined, and they perform theirown tasks in order to achieve the common goals. In addition, all family members participate in the management by sharing the information on their goals and accomplishments as well as giving opinions in order to improve the situation.

We conducted a research on the division of roles in farming operation by the groups such as: managerial generation, successoral generation, farm household who carried out the Family Management Agreement vis-à-vis those who did not.

The following results were observed:

Farm operations. First, in terms of farm management of those under the agreement; it showed that more farmers in the managerial generation were playing the leading roles compared with the successoral generation Specifically, it was notable that the high rate of the managerial wife of the farm household who carried out the agreement was in charge of the farm management such as: bank account administration of each sector, tax accounting, bookkeeping and administration of farm management, in particular. Compared with their husbands, it was distinctive that much more managerial wives were in charge of these tasks.

With regards to the total financial management of the households under the agreement, it was observed that almost the same degree of the managerial husband and wife played the primary role in the tasks such as bank account administration of farm management and administration of farming income." On the other hand, the rate of the managerial husband in charge of loan and debt administration was high. It was likely because a collateral security greatly matters when someone tries to get a loan which was seemingly related from the fact that men predominate the ownership of capital assets such as farmland which could be a collateral security while few women possess such assets.

Thus, we could conclude that the managerial wives have evenly played the leading roles in the farm management and administration with their husbands. Especially, after they had signed the family management agreement, they came to excel as a partner in various tasks and participated in farm management more aggressively.

Daily life operation. In the daily life operation aspects, it was remarkable that the division of roles in daily life operations showed a big difference between men and women, and not merely between the managerial the successoral generation. On the other hand, women were mainly in charge of the tasks of daily life operation in both generations. The wives in the managerial generation mainly took care of the economic matters such as administration of household economy, cash and bookkeeping and administration. On the contrary, the wives in the successoral generation mainly took care of the daily purchase such as grocery shopping. In terms of purchase of large-sized durable goods, more wives in the managerial generation were responsible than those of the successoral generation.

Indeed, the Family Management Agreement has directly contributed to the participation of women in farm management. It could also be noted that the division of roles in production and daily life operations, brought by the agreement has also led to the better farm management.

Nevertheless, it was a problem that men do not greatly contribute to the housework and women still shoulder much more tasks both as a farmer and a homemaker. Women were obviously filled to capacity. It should be noted that the gender equality in the aspects of daily life operations still has a long way to be accomplished.

However, the existing civil law does not guarantee a fair succession of business in case that a non-relative is actually in charge of nursing. Some farm households have carried out the Family Management Agreement, which includes the nursing plan that both the husband and the wife share and assist the nursing tasks in order to look after their parents cooperatively, but the number of these couples was still very few. It was also recommended that the contribution of the successors be clearly assessed at the time of the succession of business and be discussed and adjusted to reach an agreement with other family members and relatives upon succession.

The division of roles and cooperation among husbands and wives in rural areas in both farm management and daily life operation had been an effective measure for the managerial couples to look into the actual conditions of their partnership. It has also contributed to the formation of the gender-equal society where both men and women can work in cooperation to accomplish better management, daily life and local community.

Generally, the Family Management Agreement has promoted the improvement farm management the situation such as releasing managerial information. The agreement has also been used as a medium (tool) for building up a comfortable environment for farmers and new social system in rural areas, focusing on the promotion of the gender-equal society in the aspects of production and daily life operations and the cooperation among couples and generations.

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