Japan is facing a crisis of demographics. The population is in sharp decline. Projections concede that by 2060 the overall population will decrease by 30% while the population of those over age 65 will double. “Every year about 3.6% of farmland goes fallow. It’s the first time in history that a society has lost active farmland at this kind of pace. It’s going to change the face of Japanese society in a way that people haven’t really realized yet,” says Ono.
Within the crisis, Ono sees an opportunity to transform agriculture in Japan. “In the face of this decline, I want to feed new farmers into the system. If we could replace those 3.6% of dying farms with organic farms, as well as stalling the decline of agriculture in Japan, we could begin to convert the system over to an organic system.” Ono continues, “In order to do that, we have to come up with 10,000 new farmers each year. That is an enormous number. At On the Slope we are trying to fill 1% of that need. Our goal is to support and establish 100 people in organic agriculture each year.”
This endeavor is the soul of On the Slope. Towards this end, the company established its own model farm to serve as a training ground where new farmers can learn and practice natural farming methods. “I realized that our main business, selling produce, wasn’t sufficient,” says Ono. “There is a lot of meaning and value to the service we provide. But right now our company’s agricultural business partners are highly motivated people. They study, they learn the best ways of farming, and they find their own farmland. They are motivated and independent. Partnering with those kinds of people is easy. But in order to create the kind of numbers to make this flip, the system can’t rely only on entrepreneurial spirited people like the farmers we have partnered with so far. We have to find a simpler route for other people to make that jump to organic farming if they want to.”
On the farm, the only gasoline powered vehicles are weed whippers and cars. Otherwise everything is done by hand. The training program can accommodate four or five people at a time. Students learn about cultivation, the correct ways of natural farming with the intent to head out to work independently.
Ono would like to take it one step further. “Going forward, the population in the countryside will continue to decrease rapidly. Rather than thinking purely business, we would like to establish a cooperative system between local governments and young people who want to go into agriculture. If we can get those young people into the areas with declining populations, maybe we can fix some of those regional dilemmas.”