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Friday, Jan. 7, 2011

NGO recruiting volunteers to save 'mikan' farms

Kyodo News

A nongovernmental organization is inviting volunteers to help save orchards abandoned by "mikan" mandarin orange farmers in Kanagawa Prefecture.

News photo
Harvesttime: A farmworker (left) explains to volunteers how to harvest "mikan" mandarin oranges in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, in December. KYODO PHOTO

Tokyo-based environmental group BeGood Cafe currently maintains three mikan groves in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, with the help of volunteers.

"If a farm is left abandoned for several years, it would be difficult to revive it," said Takuya Sugi, 26, a local volunteer in Odawara, which is well-known for its mikan production but seeing many orchards abandoned every year.

According to a 2005 survey by the farm ministry, farmers have stopped growing fruit on 20,000 hectares nationwide.

Many fruit farms are abandoned every year, mainly because of a lack of successors to the country's rapidly aging farmers.

"Farming requires a lot of labor, but many tasks are quite simple. I think you can maintain fruit farms if you have the help of volunteers," he said.

In late December, about 20 volunteers visited one of the mikan farms in Odawara and harvested the oranges.

"I like working as a farm volunteer. I come here for a change and also to relax," said a 28-year-old woman who declined to be named.

The NPO, working together with citizens' groups, sells the harvest but does not make enough to cover the cost of purchasing farm equipment and paying for other expenses.

The group thus asks volunteers to pay a participation fee that is higher than the admission fee mikan farms in the neighborhood charge tourists wishing to pick oranges.

"We'd like to increase local volunteers and stabilize the number of participants," Sugi said.

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