Study on the conditions of land use conversion from residential land to farming land

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The demand for residential land is declining and the number of vacant houses and lots is increasing in depopulated areas in rural areas, suburbs and old city centre in Japan for this a few decades. Recently, afforestation for urban forestry and urban agriculture is being promoted as a countermeasure to the increase in vacant houses and plots in depopulated areas of Detroit in the USA. On the other hand, these countermeasures are rarely found in depopulated areas in Japan because abandoned farmland and derelict forests are also increasing in depopulated areas in Japan due to growing aging population. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery in Japan gives priority to the reuse of abandoned farmland and derelict forests because of already developed infrastructure, like irrigation systems, rather than focusing on the reuse of vacant residential land. Current scenario of Japan gives rise to a question i.e. “will vacant residential land continue not to be used in the future?” Examples of recycling residential land for farmland are very limited. At present, the only known case of land use conversion in Japan is in the city of Fukugawa where colonization residential lots have been converted to farmland. The aim of this study is to conducts a case study on Fukugawa Land Conversion and investigates the implications of the possibility of land use conversion from vacant residential lots to farmland and of smooth shrinkage of the city area. The colonized residential lots are scattered along the river Ishikari in Hokkaido. In this area, the original colonizers constructed their own accommodation in the centre of their farming land when they settled in the Meiji Period. As a result, the farming landscape became concave. When aged residents of the colonized residential land stopped farming and moved out, this irregular form of farmland prevented transfer of ownership to other farmers because of its low productivity. The main industry of the City of Fukagawa is farming, so the Fukagawa municipal agriculture committee decided to subsidize the demolition of vacant houses, redevelopment of farmland and costs of land use change up to 90%. As a result, some of the colonized residential lands have been transferred and are used as farmland now. At the same time, the lower productivity farmland is being abandoned and derelict farmland in mountainous areas is being left as it is. This case suggests that the economic rationality of improving farming productivity is needed in order to convert land use from residential land to farmland. In an era of population growth and economic growth, the actual demand for secondary and tertiary industries and residential land use increased and consumed farmland, but in a period of population decline, farmland has also shifted and moved from lower productivity areas to higher productivity areas and actual land demand for farming may not be increasing. In other words, the possibility of increased productivity in agriculture and forestry can create the possibility of land use change from residential land to farmland or forest land. This suggests the importance of productivity improvement of regional agriculture and forestry for discussing shrinking city areas.
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