Japan Looks to Farm Start-Ups

Paolo Bosonin and Kosaku Narioka reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “A few years ago, rice grower Senichi Makino had a beefy business idea. He wanted to use brown rice to cook up a concoction that mimicked the taste and texture of meat.

The problem was persuading local banks to lend him the money for a factory. In Japan, banks still prefer to lend against hard assets like land, not just a bright idea, and in a place like Sabae–a quiet countryside town in central Japan–it’s hard to find a venture capitalist.

“Mr. Makino found his savior in a fund led by a national agricultural bank and the Japanese government. It pitched in enough capital to give banks confidence to lend his new company about $4 million.”

The Journal writers explained that, “Behind the fund that backed Mr. Makino is an effort in Japan to counter unprecedented challenges to agriculture. The looming Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement among Japan, the U.S. and 10 other countries could bring in less-expensive foreign produce. Budget pressures are limiting the government’s ability to keep up longstanding generous support for farmers. And aging farm communities need new ideas to keep young people from moving to cities.

“The fund helped Mr. Makino set up a startup called Maisen Fine Food Co. In February, his factory started production and sales began in March. Mr. Makino’s companies now have about 30 employees in total and control most of the supply chain, from planting and harvesting the rice in Sabae to marketing the products in Tokyo.”

The Journal article added that, “Altogether, government-backed funds in the areas of agriculture, forestry and fisheries have invested in about 90 ventures since the program started three years ago.”

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