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Replenishing the Soil: Food, Fertiliser and Soil Science in Occupied Japan (1945–52)

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Environmental scientists and activists in the early twenty-first century have identified productive, healthy soils as a key factor in feeding a rapidly increasing global population and mitigating climate change. This article argues that serious food shortages in Japan following its defeat in 1945 caused the fertility of its soils to become a pressing issue for the Allied Occupation (1945–52) and one seen as central to the success of democratisation. The prospect of famine in the cities in 1946 and 1947 and associated political unrest justified urgent imports of food from the US, causing much resentment among its allies, who questioned the seriousness of the food supply crisis in Japan. The Occupation’s Natural Resources Section worked to reduce Japan’s dependence on food imports by surveying Japan’s soils and recommending their rapid augmentation with chemical fertilisers, the manufacture of which had practically ceased during the war. The US imported nitrogenous fertiliser to supplement inadequate domestic output and provided phosphate ore (for superphosphate fertiliser) from Florida, in addition to encouraging Japanese mining operations on Angaur Island, formerly part of the Japanese empire. The latter generated conflicts with the natives of the island, the local US naval command and the Australian government. Such tensions demonstrate the many and varied facets of the ‘fertiliser problem’, which was seen as pivotal to food supply and economic recovery. Major imports of agricultural commodities from the US after 1952 reflected its Cold War alliance with Japan. Likewise, significant transfers of technology contributed to a steep increase in the use of agricultural chemicals, causing the fertiliser problem to become a pressing environmental one by the 1990s.
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Keywords: Allied Occupation of Japan; Cold War; chemical fertiliser; economic recovery; food supply; soil science

Appeared or available online: March 4, 2020

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