Close to 80 industry, academics, and government officials held an intensive conference in Shimane Prefecture to explore critical challenges facing the region. Current projections show that the area, which is highly dependent on agriculture, will drop drastically by 40% over the next 25 years. Moreover, the average age of the population is expected to climb driven by the decreased birthrate and migration of young people away from the region.
There is already a serious shortage of labor in Japanese agriculture and the situation is expected to reach a critical stage soon, unless other alternatives are developed. One of the primary themes of the conference was the need to develop automation and robotic technology. According to government reports, Japan's agricultural self-sufficiency, meaning its ability to domestically produce the food it consumes, has already dropped to under 35%, which makes the need to automate a severe and immediate issue. It remains to be seen if agriculture processes will lend themselves to the same type of automation used in manufacturing - an area where Japan has unquestionably lead the world.