Sarabetsu Village is a village in the Tokachi region of Hokkaido with a population of about 3,100 people (the aging rate is about 31%). It is close to Obihiro Airport, and you can reach the village within 15 minutes by car. It takes about 30 minutes by car to Obihiro city. It is touted on the Internet as ”Japan’s richest village”. There was also talk of Ferraris and Lamborghinis driving around, which piqued my curiosity.
Early November, the beginning of winter. I rented a car at Obihiro Airport and visited Sarabetsu Village. It was surprisingly warm and I was able to enjoy Cool Biz. Sarabetsu Village is a tranquil area with a magnificent and idyllic landscape that is typical of Hokkaido. As expected, I didn’t see any Ferraris or Lamborghinis, but it had a somewhat sophisticated and rich atmosphere.
“71% of Sarabetsu Village is arable land. It has a continental climate, with precipitation of around 1,200 mm. There is little snow. The large temperature difference makes it suitable for agriculture. The farming population is about 800 people, and the number of farms is about 200. Basically, large-scale farming is carried out, and each household operates approximately 52 hectares.Each household owns about 6 tractors.The food self-sufficiency rate is 6800% (calorie basis).The main crops are wheat and sugar beet. , beans, potatoes, green beans,.The gross agricultural production of the village as a whole is about 13 billion yen.If you simply divide it by 200 households, the income per household is about 65 million yen.They are able to practice relatively wealthy agriculture. This can be said to be a characteristic of Sarabetsu Village”. Counselor Masahiro Konno of Sarabetsu Village Office explains as follows.
However, this does not mean there are no challenges. As in other regions, the lack of successors is beginning to cast a shadow on the prosperous agricultural industry.
According to estimates by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the farming population in Sarabetsu Village will decline to 400 in 2040. By the way, the total population is expected to decrease to 2,700 in 2040 and 2,200 in 2060.
”Farmers who have successors take over the business, but those who don’t tend to quit farming.After quitting farming, they either sell their farmland or rent it to neighboring farmers for use.This is the situation. There is no sign that the farming population will increase,” Konno said, folding his arms.
If it were possible to run a wealthy farm, I think there would be many young people here who would aspire to become farmers.
When asked this question, Mr. Konno replied, ”Even if there are young people who want to become farmers, under the current agricultural land law, they cannot entrust farmland to anyone other than farmers.Therefore, we first need to train young people to become farmers. However, when young people who are mostly amateurs are suddenly given more than 50 hectares of farmland, they can’t do anything.Moreover, they have to borrow money to buy the farmland.The cost is too high.These problems make it difficult for young people to enter the field. “It may be said that this is a problem caused by large-scale agriculture”.
In terms of issues, one can also point to the fact that consumption within the village is low. The consumption rate of the village’s shopping district’s salary income is just under 3%. In other words, more than 97% of the money earned in the village flows outside the village.
”The salary income for the entire village is about 20 billion yen, but only 3% of that is spent at local shops, and the rest goes outside.When considering the village’s economy, it is important to promote local production for local consumption. We need to move forward” (Mr. Konno).
In order to address these issues, Sarabetsu Village has been developing the “Sarabetsu Super Village Concept” since October last year. As part of this effort, we will focus on promoting precision agriculture using DX and data to alleviate agricultural labor shortages.
“We will focus on ensuring productivity by making full use of AI and robots while putting in place systems to secure human resources.It is certain that cutting-edge technology will be needed in the future, so Sarabetsu Village has the advantage of accumulating know-how as early as possible. “This connects to sexuality. This becomes the region’s charm and its unique strength. We are promoting DX to create this trend”, Konno says.
As a specific initiative, we conducted a demonstration of an unmanned tractor. We will also use drones to collect soil. Unmanned tractors and drones have a significant effect on large-scale agriculture. Due to the large scale, the workload is dramatically reduced.
In addition, a grass-cutting robot was also demonstrated. Although it was not self-driving, it was effective in mowing grass on slopes. Autonomous driving will lead to labor savings in the management of parks and grounds owned by the village.
Regarding local production for local consumption, emphasis will be placed on creating a system to digitally drive the local economy. As part of this effort, they are focusing on acquiring various data. They are focusing on acquiring personal data of villagers, including agricultural data for precision agriculture. Specifically, with the aim of living an exciting life until the age of 100, we have developed ”Hyakuwaku SARABETS DIGITAL,” which provides hobby-related and health-related services such as community nursing, karaoke, fashion, and exercise classes. The data obtained through service provision is packaged into one package.
In addition to health data and outing data, it also collects household appliance data such as opening/closing refrigerators and turning lights on and off in villagers’ homes.
”Sensors are attached to breakers in villagers’ homes, and AI determines which home appliances are activated by the vibrations of the breakers.This allows us to detect whether people wake up later than usual, go to bed earlier, or eat less frequently. “We can detect various changes in behavior, such as a decrease in the number of people living with children. By transmitting this data to hospitals, nursing care facilities, and immediate family members, we can take early action and, as a result, reduce social security costs” (Mr. Konno).
To accelerate these efforts, collaboration with outside parties such as private companies is essential.
”I think data packaged in one package has high utility value for companies as well.Sarabetsu Village is a municipality with about 3,000 people, but it has its own data collaboration infrastructure.It can be used as a field for demonstration experiments by ICT companies. Please listen to the voices of villagers and use DX to spread the word.The village will also use DX to streamline tasks that are time-consuming for companies, such as administrative procedures.Through these efforts, we will create businesses originating from Sarabetsu Village. “We want to continue to enrich the local community in a sustainable manner. Unless new businesses create jobs, the region will not be revitalized” ,Konno said.