Local push to aid relief efforts in Japan

FRESNO, Calif.

Everything from valley citrus to vegetables to nuts is shipped to Japan. But right now ag leaders are just looking at ways to assist in the Japan relief effort.

Families have been waiting in long lines for food and water in many parts of Japan. Getting food to devastated areas has been an overwhelming task.

Manuel Cunha heads the Nisei Farmers League. The group formed 40 years ago originally to assist Japanese-American farmers. Cunha is worried government bureaucracy could hold up shipments of food to Japan. He explained, "Being that they are a large buyer that helps our economy in this country then we need to step up and help them in this time of need."

Seawater flooded fertile farmland in the northeast part of the country.

Cunha said, "They were growing the vegetables and they probably even had apples and rice."

Feeding residents has become that much more difficult.

Mickey Paggi of the Center for Agricultural Business said Japan is one of the world's largest food importers. Paggi said, "60-percent of its calories come from imported food sources so it is really trade dependent. When we talk about the U.S. it is the fourth largest customer for U.S. ag exports."

Japan spent over 11-billion dollars on American ag products last year, many of them grown in the valley. Paggi said, "It's the number-one single country market for raisins, number-three for walnuts, number-four for almonds, number-five for fresh oranges, the list goes on."

Cunha said he will ask U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack to take a leading role in shipping non-perishable food items to Japan. "I see more of our dried fruits, the dried nuts, the almonds, walnuts and the pecans and those products that can get there right away. You can drop them by plane."

Air drops are being considered because so many washed out areas are not accessible by car. Cunha is also calling on other ag groups around the state to help raise money for Japanese farmers and families.

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