ASO, Kumamoto -- An explosive volcanic eruption at Mount Aso in the early hours of Oct. 8 dealt a blow to local farmers who have already been battered by devastating earthquakes and bad weather this year.
Following the earthquakes in April, Kumamoto Prefecture was hit by heavy rains in June, then further strong rain and a shortage of sunlight in September. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, heavy rainfall in September was influenced by an autumn rain front and typhoons. In the city of Aso, around 1.9 times the precipitation of a normal year was recorded in September, while sunlight hours were 67 percent of that of a normal year for that month. The volcanic eruption could now add yet more trouble for farmers struggling to manage their crops this year.
On Oct. 9 work began to remove volcanic ash that had accumulated from the eruption, as rice and vegetable farmers lamented the damage to agriculture.
In Aso's Ichinomiyamachimiyaji area, 42-year-old farmer Tadatsuna Inukai had a glum look on his face. The April earthquakes caused Inukai's barn to collapse, and in the recent eruption, volcanic rocks opened a large number of holes in the plastic covering of a greenhouse where he grows tomatoes, requiring the cover to be replaced. He still has two hectares of rice meant for human consumption that he has not harvested yet, but the ash and rocks from the eruption that landed in the rice paddies could cause further problems. Inukai also has rice for livestock feed that has not been harvested, and he says that if the rice is covered in ash the cattle he raises won't eat it.
In the face of the string of problems, Inukai says, "I almost feel like giving up. The only silver lining is that (when the eruption happened) we were close to the end of the harvesting season."
Elsewhere in the same area, another farmer, Hiroki Honda, 78, had 170 panels in the glass ceilings of his 18 vegetable greenhouses broken by falling rocks. He had the greenhouses constructed in 1983 at a cost of around 120 million yen, and while raising tomatoes, spinach and other plants there, he slowly paid back his debt, finally paying it all back just a few years ago. In the greenhouses, from which normally the sky can be seen through the ceilings, the view is now blocked by a layer of ash, with bits of sunlight streaming through cracks where the panels broke.
"I wanted to keep raising vegetables while I had the strength, but at this age, I can't recover from this on my own," said Honda with tears in his eyes.
In the city's Nishimachi area, 46-year-old Haruki Nakayama runs the tourism-oriented farm "Kajitsu no Kuni Couples." The eruption has arrived in the middle of grape and apple-picking season. Nakayama already saw a large drop in visitors for the strawberry-picking season due to the Kumamoto Earthquake. Tourists had been returning since around summer, only for the eruption to now hit. Apples that get volcanic ash on them at harvest time are blackened in those parts, and Nakayama says, "I can't use them as products."
A representative for the prefectural government says, "Since the earthquakes, farmers have been trying hard to raise their products, and we worry that people will avoid local products from now on simply after hearing that they were grown in Aso. We want consumers to know that if the ash is wiped off for some products there is no problem with their quality."
Gov. Ikuo Kabashima has visited the area and promised support from the prefectural level, such as fighting against unfounded consumer fears about area agricultural products. He said, "Aso has been hit by continued disasters these past few years, such as heavy rains, earthquakes and eruptions. We will release information to stop unfounded rumors from damaging the agricultural and tourism industries."