Ibaraki Prefecture, one of Japan's leading agricultural regions, is taking up the challenge to make its agriculture and fishery industries profitable and sustainable through the expansion of its export channels and the use of AI and other innovative technologies. 

As Ibaraki prepares to take the spotlight when it hosts the G7 Interior and Security Ministers' Meeting in the region's capital Mito from Friday, the prefecture has released a video showcasing some of its efforts toward achieving these goals.

Fertile land and some 190 km of coastline are among the factors that help to make Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, Japan's leading producer of agricultural, forestry and fishery products, by value and volume.

The value of agricultural exports (fruits and vegetables, rice, and animal products) from the region increased tenfold from 2016 to 2022, topping 1.3 billion yen that year, the highest ever for the region. Ibaraki's fishery industry by itself is also one of the largest in the country - at 299,686 tonnes, second only to Hokkaido in terms of total marine fishing catch in 2021. 

Amid challenges presented by Japan's shrinking population and climate change, among others, Ibaraki is now looking to strengthen its agriculture and fishery industries in order that they can withstand an uncertain and unpredictable future. 

In Ibaraki's Namegata region, local farming cooperatives are increasing their efforts to promote and export kansho, or "sweet potatoes," which have seen a boom in popularity in Southeast Asia in recent years where people have developed a taste for roasted sweet potatoes, or "yaki-imo."

Kansho, or "sweet potatoes," like these at a farm in Ibaraki's Namegata region have seen a boom in popularity in Southeast Asia in recent years. Photo taken Nov. 2023.

Ibaraki Prefecture is also making a shift from catching fish in the wild to innovative aquaculture as it looks to address labor shortages in fisheries and adapt to rising sea temperatures. 

At Nakaminato Port in the city of Hitachinaka, a project is underway through which the prefecture is working with a deeptech company to farm mackerel in tanks using remote feeders and AI technology to monitor feeding behavior.

Aquafarming project in the city of Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture, using AI and other technologies to farm mackerel. Photo taken Nov. 2023.

"I think it is important for Ibaraki to adopt a hungry spirit, a determination to be successful, to take risks, and to adopt a unique stance," Ibaraki Governor Kazuhiko Oigawa said during an interview for the video.

"I think from now on it's important for us to become a prefecture that is a little different."

Screen grab shows Ibaraki Gov. Kazuhiko Oigawa during a video message recorded ahead of the prefecture hosting a meeting of G7 ministers in December.