Teikei is not merely an alternative distribution system of organic products, but rather an ecological production and consumption system that places the producers and consumers in a dynamic and creative relationship.
The community sharing direct distribution systems, and the ecological consciousness fostered in the teikei system is what we need take our organic movement to the next level of its development.
In 1992, the Earth summit was held in Rio de Janeiro to open discussion and propose solutions for the world pressing environmental problems. There, every country agreed on the importance of a sustainable society where human beings responsibly manage the earth ecosystem. Organic farming, or producing food in a manner that is healthy for both the body and the earth, is one of the key components in realizing such a society.
Since that time, the market for organic products has significantly grown, and many new ecological farming techniques have been introduced. We have watched organic foods grow from its grass-roots Into a multi-billion-dollar global industry. But can we be completely satisfied with the our present path? Many organic products differ from their conventional counterparts only in the techniques of their production, with the distribution and consumption patterns of the former remaining the same. Should not the organic philosophy be fully extended to account for the product distribution and consumption? Now may be an Ideal time to consider the teikei system as highly effective method of production, cultivation, distribution, and consumption that would carry the organic movement forward into the future.
Origins of teikei
Organic agriculture in Japan started with the introduction of the teikei system at the time when the Japanese economy began to emerge as a world power in the 1960fs. Although the Japanese standard of living and luxury had improved, many different societal problems were beginning to surface. In urban areas, the growth of population caused traffic, pollution, crime, and a degradation of the traditional community. Many people in the city became isolated and stressed. As business took priority of human life, many foods were found with different kinds of additives and they lost credibility among consumers. In 1975, consumer awareness became even more focussed with the release of Sawako Ariyoshi book Fukugouosen (a Japanese word meaning “complex pollution”) that disclosed the danger of agricultural products contaminated with pesticides, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and antibiotics. Meanwhile in rural areas, some farmers had suffered from disease after applying pesticides and herbicides. Then those consumers, out of a sense of crisis, sought better food and met with farmers who wanted to produce products that gave priority to safeness rather than appearance. This was the beginning of the teikei system. The word teikei means “co-partnership”. In this spirit, the Japan Organic Agriculture Association was founded In 1970 with consumers, farmers, scholars, public servants and cooperative workers in order to promote teikei system. Under the tekei system, relationships are face-to-face, as all products are distributed directly from producers to consumers. There is no middleman or costly inspection bodies, so the pricing is very competitive compared to conventional distribution systems. The system of teikei can be described in ten principles below:
- To build friendly and creative relationships, not as mere trading partners
- To produce according to pre-arranged plans on an agreement between the producers and the consumers
- To accept all the produce delivered from the producers
- To set prices in spirit of mutual benefits
- To deepen communication for the mutual respect and trust
- To manage self-distribution, either by the producers or by the consumers
- To be democratic in the activities
- To take interest in studying issues related to organic agriculture
- To keep the members of each group in an appropriate number
- To go on making steady progress even if slow towards the final goal of management of organic agriculture and an ecologically sound life
As we can read above, Teikei system stresses in the ecologically way of life rather than technical emphasis on sustainable agriculture. We think that the problems of the present agricultural condition will not change by just converting conventional farms and farmers to organic. Unless we pay closer attention to the larger systems that production and consumption are imbedded in, it will be difficult for the organic movement to stay in touch with its original meaning.
Present state of teikei
Presently In Japan, It is a tenuous time for the teikei movement. Since the start of teikei, all processes of production, distribution, and consumption have been done without any government subsidies or business involvement. There were never any systems of inspection nor standards but simply the trust and promise that goes hand-in-hand with the consumers close relationship with the farmers. Today, however, the international trend for standard making and also the confusion of organic foods in the Japanese domestic market is pushing teikei groups to be concerned about the issue. Also, the Japanese government, influenced by CODEX and the moves of organic food laws in US and Europe, established the Standard Investigation Committee for Organic Foods. They disclosed their plan to pass organic food laws that oblige every organic farmer to be inspected through an official inspection body (that they appoint) according to the organic standard that they will decide. Any organic products that do not follow the new regulations will not be allowed the label “organic”. The organic standard guidelines that government originally released was arbitrary, but this time it is compulsory. This measure for organic foods may be effective for organic markets in Japan where many retailers label “organic” without inspection or regulation and consumers have no reliability on the products. But many Japanese organic farmers have a doubt in the bureaucratic agricultural policy that has often been beyond the present condition of local farmers – usually just the copy or manipulation of western countries, whose standards may not comply with the organic farming in Asia monsoon climates. Moreover, compulsory organic law may enforce unnecessary finances for teikei groups because of costly inspection and certification bodies. One of the merits in teikei system is its reasonable price. If the law is enforced to teikei, it will raise the price for consumers and create extra costs for farmers. There may be more possibilities of breaking down in teikei relation and allowing more consumers to leave the groups if the law is enforced. Some teikei groups, bewildered by the government announcement, have started to establish their own standards to counter the government moves, while some groups continue to reject and protest any governmental attempts to impose standards. But they all share the same opinion that a private or public inspection body would be an unwelcome and unneeded development in their autonomous systems.
Teikei itself is ultimate inspection system – the trust and understanding, its small-scale, and the involvement of everyone concerned make it so. If standards and inspections are the global current that will not change, a self-inspection system in which producers and consumers inspect by themselves (as they do in teikei) should be recognized and accounted for independently. But teikei needs international support and further implementation in order for people to see its benefits over conventional systems and the potential it holds for the future development of organic agriculture. We have to protect, preserve and encourage teikei in the international organic movement IFOAM.
Teikei system is managed with good energy efficiency.
In present agricultural distribution systems, primary food products travel across the globe, taking food from poor regions to rich countries, as farmers in developed countries suffer in price competition. Single crop production then becomes encouraged, which promotes the use of more pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The large markets that this mono-culturing is designed for require a lot of transporting, which leads to more energy use and pollution.
In the case of many Teikei systems, local production and local consumption have been integrated to stop such a trend. Organic farmers of teikei produce a cornicopia of items, sometimes over 80 kinds of vegetables. Complex crop rotation systems with variety of plants in the plantation help to keep a natural diversity. Seasonable products are distributed directly to consumers, sometimes by the farmers themselves. Sharing a common geography makes consumers and producers possible to build friendly relationships and mutual understanding. When the consumer base for small-scale organic farmers is in a nearby town or city like this, energy used for transportation can be reduced bthe preservation of natural diversity becomes possible, and cost for production to consumption will be less. This healthy relation between urban and rural areas can help make ecologically sound societies possible.
Teikei system promotes the three R – Reuse, Reduce, Recycle.
The close relation between producers and consumers eliminates the need for expensive packaging and attractive marketing. Old newspapers, used plastic bags from supermarket , or used paper bags from farms are all reused to pack the organic products. These are often returned by the consumers and used again. There are even some teikei groups where consumer members make compost with food waste In order to take to their farmers. The close relation from production to consumption makes reducing, reusing, and recycling much easier to practice.
Teikei is a practical solution for conservation of local ecology.
Traditionally, the simple, self-sufficient life of local villagers ensured natural diversity and local ecological balance. Todayfs systems of mass-production/consumption have changed the face of the village completely. In teikei, all the prices of each item are discussed between consumers and producers, considering the necessary income for farmers to manage their farm as well as consumers demands. The amount of organically produced fields are then also considered to avoid over-production. The discussion between urban and local residents enables the exchange of information and both can get a grasp of the cause of environment devastation in local natural areas. This strong tie between them often leads to movements against reckless exploitation by private cooperation or public projects that may cause ecological destruction. There are even the villages in Japan that partly as a result of the activities of teikei farms and their consumers, have been declared “organic villages” where ecological policy is in priority.
Teikei is a good example of environmental education.
Many people think education can only be found in a school or in a community center. Many eco-activists open big symposiums and tell people about the serious problems in environment. There are other alternatives such as visiting an organic farm where one can observe the beautiful harmony of people and nature, where one can hear how farmers suffered from an ill-defined disease after using pesticides, and where people begin to understand what goes into making the food they eat everyday. We can not find the solution for ecological education only through books or lecture; field study and communication is necessary to realize sustainable society in practice
In the teikei system, the consumer group can visit their farmer periodically to help them on the field. This work sharing gives a good opportunity for city people and their children to understand agriculture from an ecological standpoint, while farmers learn problems that consumers face in urban life. In Japan, there are many cases that civil groups have been born from teikei groups both in rural and urban area such as protesting against nuclear power stations, dioxin research groups anti-GM networks, public incinerator studying groups, etc. People are motivated to study further if they can see common problems and realize that ecological problems are not beyond their hands but very close to their everyday lives. Teikei helps educate people to think globally and act locally.