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Co-op reforms seek to end smallholder bias

TOKYO -- Diminishing the power of Japanese agricultural cooperatives' central union, which has more often than not spoken for "part-time" farmers, will mark a step in the right direction. But more effort is needed to halt the decline of Japanese agriculture.

     The biggest problem with the co-ops is that people for whom farming is a side job constitute a majority of their membership, creating an obstacle to achieving economies of scale. The Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, or JA-Zenchu, has served as a political lobby for such smallholders while stifling innovation at the local level. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is now taking an ax to this power structure.

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