For over 10 years, Vitagora has been building a working relationship with Japan’s agri-food sector, with the goal of facilitating collaborations between French and Japanese research and industry players.
One of Vitagora’s main partners in Japan is the National Agriculture and Food Research Organisation (NARO), who formally joined the Vitagora cluster in 2020. NARO is one of the world’s leading scientific institutes in the agri-food sector with a total of 3,300 staff members, including 1,800 researchers and research centres throughout Japan.
Since 2017, NARO has looked to develop closer links with Europe by establishing a scientific liaison office in the Netherlands, represented by Dr. Kazuhisa Goto, a marketing researcher and agricultural economist based at the Wageningen University and Research(WUR).
We talked to Dr Goto about NARO’s goals regarding their presence in Europe and their next steps in building closer links with Vitagora’s network.
GOTO Kazuhisa Ph.D., Economist/Marketing Scientist and NARO European scientific liaison
Dr Goto, what is your role, and what are the goals for NARO’s presence in Europe?
"Since 2017, NARO decided to establish a European branch, following discussions between the governments of Japan and the Netherlands on forging a strong relationship connected to the agriculture and food industry. Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, I am the first liaison scientist from NARO based at the Wageningen University and Research, and now I am in charge of European countries, which also includes managing the partnerships with other important European partners such as Vitagora and INRAE in France.
"My role includes two important directions, which are to expand our network within EU countries, and to create ambitious new research projects between Japan and countries in the EU, including the Netherlands and France, to tackle important issues facing the global agri-food sector. Our goal is to contribute to global issues with our knowledge and experience.
"To do this, we want to develop partnerships to help develop collaborative projects involving both public research and private sector industry in Europe and Japan.
"We have planned and continue to plan network events and workshops allowing Japanese and European researchers to present their research to the scientific and industrial communities. We are looking for interested private sector parties to take part in research programs, and we encourage potential partners in Japan to collaborate with EU researchers."
What are the current agri-food innovation challenges in Japan?
"Japan is facing many issues concerning the agri-food sector. For instance, ageing farmers which creates both a labour shortage and challenges to transmitting farming know-how; an increase in food imports that puts pressure on farmers’ income; an increasing number of unpredictable weather events caused by climate change; how to make food production more sustainable; maintaining the health of consumers, etc.
"A number of these issues are common to Japan and Europe, which is why it makes sense to pool our resources and work together to solve these problems."
How is NARO addressing these challenges?
"NARO’s scientific axes are set within a 4-to-5-year strategic plan, with a new plan commencing in 2021. Our core competences are in plant breeding, agricultural technologies, food function research and agri-food economics.
"Promoting smart agriculture is one of the big challenges addressed by NARO to combat labour shortages as well as making agriculture more sustainable. We are working on creating automated robot machines for agriculture: a picking and packing robot for strawberries, unmanned operated robot tractors etc. A number of these robots are already commercialized.
"Reducing environmental impact is also a big challenge. For example, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cows and livestock are interesting topics which can also contribute to global issues.
"Another focus is on building smart food value chains, the purpose of which is to reduce food waste, to create more efficient packaging or food preservation methods etc. These technologies would also contribute to boosting Japanese food exports to the world.
"Finally, NARO is also looking to support health through functional foods. Nutritional research to preserve the health benefits of foods is an important area of study. This extends from plant breeding through to the development of high value functional ingredients."
Are there any success stories of innovations developed by NARO that have been transferred to industry?
"One of our achievements that create value for the Japanese food industry are automated agricultural robots including driverless tractors, rice planters and combine harvesters.
Functional drinks using a polyphenol-rich extract from the new variety of sweet potato developed by NARO
NARO has also developed successful new plant varieties - the Fuji apple is a flagship example of NARO plant breeding. A more recent example started as a breeding program to develop a purple sweet potato, but also showcases NARO’s competencies in food processing technologies, health and marketing. This program was inspired the so-called “French Paradox”, which observed that the French population is protected from cardiovascular disease by the polyphenols in red wine. The new variety of purple sweet potato developed by NARO is rich in anthocyanins, another type of polyphenol, that provides protection from disease, in particular liver function and blood pressure, as proven by clinical trials. Extracts from this sweet potato using an innovative process have been integrated into functional products that have been successfully commercialised in Japan. These products include drinks by the company Yakult, as well as a Haagen-Dasz ice-cream, and other confectionary and sweet products."
What are NARO’s goals in Europe for working with European players like Vitagora?
"VITAGORA is one of our important partners in France, with a working relationship going back to 2009. Over the years we have worked with Vitagora on a number of topics, including sensory tests on a peach variety destined for the European market. The testing was carried out by Sensostat, a member of Vitagora, based in Dijon.
"In 2020, NARO become a member of Vitagora following an official visit by the president of NARO to Vitagora’s headquarters in 2019 during which he was impressed by the activities of Vitagora, as well as the research activities of INRAE. We are keen to work together with VITAGORA and with VITAGORA's member companies to create links with the Japanese research and the agri-food industry, in the form of collaborative projects or other types of partnerships that address global agri-food challenges."
Find out more
For more information, contact:
Bérengère Moindroit, International Development Manager, Vitagora
Tel.: +33 (0)3 80 78 77 41