Ramsar Senior Regional Advisor for Asia/Oceania reports on the implementation of the Ramsar Convention in Japan


Winter flooded rice paddies at Kabukuri-numa Ramsar siteJapan joined the Ramsar Convention in 1980 and has since listed 37 Ramsar sites across the country, covering a range of wetland types from marshes to lakes, streams, rice paddies, mangrove forests and tidal-flats. In the late 1980s, the GOJ proposed a number of projects that involved the reclamation of tidal flats for urban and port development, as well as for agriculture.

One recent sign of the cooperation between the GOJ and NPOS is their work for the adoption of the COP10 Resolution on rice paddies (Res. X.31), which recognizes the importance of rice paddies for biodiversity.

Miyagi Prefecture is one of the main areas for rice cultivation in Japan. Apart from providing food, these fields provide important wintering habitat for tens of thousands of ducks, geese and swans in winter that feed on the fallen grain of rice and other foods. Then the marshes, lakes and reservoirs around these paddies serve as roosting sites for these birds. Three Ramsar sites have been designated in Miyagi Prefecture to conserve the most important of these wetland habitats for the wintering birds. In addition, the government and NPOs have initiated programmes to encourage the rice farmers to reduce, or even abandon the use of chemicals in their farming and not to completely drain their paddies in winter, so that the fields can be an even more suitable waterbird feeding habitats. The rice and products, e.g. rice wine (‘sake’) that are produce from these fields are specially labelled so making them added value for the public to buy.

Kabukuri-numa is one of the three Ramsar sites in Miyagi Prefecture and every year since 2006, a ‘festival’ has been held by the mayor of the city to celebrate the designation of the site as a Ramsar site. 2010 was not an exception and the festival was held on 13 February and involved a public seminar opened by the Mayor of Osaki City, Mr. Yasushi Itoh, where speakers gave presentations on the activities being carried by various local NPOs with students and the farmers to raise awareness of the importance of the rice paddies and for promoting their conservation. At the meeting, the Ramsar Secretariat also gave an update about the work of the Convention, as did the Secretariat of the East Asian – Australasian Flyway (EAAF) Partnership Network about the also work of the Network, which is one of the Regional Initiatives of the Convention. The EAAF Secretariat also presented a certificate to the Mayor of Osaki City, for including Keju-numa, one of the other three Ramsar sites in Miyagi Prefecture, as a Network Site in the EAAF Partnership Network.

The management of three Ramsar sites in Miyagi Prefecture through cooperation by the local government, NPO and farmers is seen as a success in Japan and the government is considering enlarging the area of the sites in future so as to include a larger area of the rice paddy. There may also be opportunities of designating more areas of rice paddies as Ramsar sites in future.  The only dark cloud is that the average age of rice farmers in Japan is now over 60 years and there are few young people willing to enter the industry because of the lure of better paid work in the town and cities. A way will have to be found to encourage people to become the next generation of rice farmers if the industry is to survive long-term.

Ramsar COP5 held in Kushiro can be seen to have had quite an impact on wetland conservation in Japan and from it, grew the Ramsar Network – Japan, a community group that aims to continue raising awareness and implementation of the Convention in the country. In October 2010, the COP10 of the Convention on Biological Diversity will be held in Nagoya City and it is expected that this meeting, will also raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity conservation to the community. Both the Japanese government and NPO are already working hard to promote CBD COP10 and a community group, the ‘Japan Civil Network for CBD COP10’ has also been specially formed to do this. On the 20 February, this group and the Ramsar Network – Japan organized a joint meeting to raise awareness of wetland biodiversity, especially in rice paddies. At this meeting, the Ramsar Secretariat gave a presentation on the close relation between Ramsar and CBD, including the fact that the Ramsar Convention is the lead partner in the implementation of activities under CBD related to wetlands.

Overall, the impression gained was that there was a broad and strong support for the implementation of the Convention in Japan, and that this support is growing. The Secretariat is indebted to the Ministry of Environment (Government of Japan), Ramsar Network – Japan, Japan Civil Network for CBD COP10, and Wetland Forum (Fukuoka City), who provided substantial help and support to make the mission such a valuable learning experience.

Lew Young
Senior Advisor for Asia-Oceania
Ramsar Secretariat
28 rue Mauverney, CH-1196 Gland (Switzerland)

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