Rebuilding a tsunami-hit town
On March 11, 2011, the strongest earthquake in its recorded history hit Japan. The tsunami that followed devastated the coastal areas of Tohoku, destroying almost all the town’s agriculture, including 97% of its strawberry-growing greenhouses. Determined to rebuild his hometown, IT entrepreneur and grandson of a local strawberry farmer, Iwasa Hiroki, rushed to join relief efforts. Confronted with the scale of the destruction, Iwasa set himself the giant task of restoring and rebuilding Tohoku’s strawberry industry to support survivors and communities left reeling from the loss of lives and livelihoods.
Growing a better tomorrow
Iwasa now heads 11-year-old GRA Inc, a start-up that enlists the expertise of local farmers and outfits greenhouses with the latest technologies, including crown cooling and LED growth lights, to ensure optimal strawberry growing conditions from seed to berry.
In 2014, Iwasa’s tech-savvy strawberry farms prompted a visit from then-Prime Minister, the late Shinzo Abe, in recognition of its Migaki-Ichigo brand of intensely fragrant and exceptionally sweet premium strawberries. Emphasising quality over quantity, each hand-picked berry, nestled in chic, moulded packaging, sells for as much as US$10 in the upscale department stores of Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. Iwasa’s facility is so cutting-edge, it has also become part of the small rural town of Yamamoto’s growing tourism economy, attracting over 10,000 visitors a year.
Sustainably perfect strawberries
With strawberries particularly susceptible to disease, GRA uses two UPL biosolutions, SPIDEX and Natupol Black. Together, they help protect the fruit against pests and diseases from planting to picking, ensuring every berry sold is perfectly ripe and perfectly formed.
Iwasa is also aware of the damage done by industrial farming and the need for new approaches: “The use of agrochemicals has resulted in pesticide and insecticide resistance, leading to more frequent spraying and increased costs,” he says. “UPL has been a helpful and powerful supporter of GRA for the past 7 years, providing us with the technologies and biosolutions we need to fight natural enemies efficiently, without damaging the environment. Our duty to our children and future generations is to farm sustainably.”
An eye on the future
With the appetite for healthy, high-quality, locally-grown produce on the rise, Iwasa hopes to make a name for Japanese strawberries globally as he continues on his decade-long ambition of revitalising Tohoku’s strawberry industry and achieving the long-term economic resilience of his home town.