Living with the Oriental White Stork (Konotori) – Toyooka city’s challenge for co-existence of economy and environment

Toyooka City is located at the northeast part of Hyogo Prefecture, in the western part of Japan. It is about 100 km north from the prefectural capital city, Kobe, and the northern part of the city faces the Sea of Japan. The city has the gross area of 69,766 hectare, 80% of which covered by mountain forest (natural and planted), and the Maruyama river flows in the city from south to north, forming Toyooka basin where most of the agricultural field and some of the industrial facilities are located.
The population of the city is around 88,500 (in 2006) with 29,800 households, that is gradually decreasing year by year. Among the work force, only 7.8% is engaged in agriculture, forestry, or fishery, 29.8% is working in manufacturing and construction industry, and the rest is engaged in other sectors such as trade and commerce, finance, public services, transportation, or other services. The city receives a large number of tourists from all over Japan as it has famous hot spring resorts (Kinosaki hot spring), old ancient castle town (Izushi), beautiful beach (Takeno coast), and highland resort (Kannabe Kogen). More than 5 million tourists visit the city in a year.
In addition to those tourist spots, recently, the city started to attract the interest of the outsiders by its successful achievement of long-lasting effort, the revival of Oriental White Stork (Konotori).

What is Konotori (Oriental White Stork)?
The Oriental White Stork (Ciconia Boyciana in Scientific name, and Konotori in Japanese) is a kind of Storks that inhabits only in the far eastern part of Asia with the estimated total population of 2,000. It is a migratory bird that breeds in north-eastern China, and migrates for wintering south-eastern part of China. The color is mostly white with black flight feather and red legs, and the wingspan is approx. 200 cm. The storks are predatory, feeding on fish as well as small animals including frogs, earthworms, and grasshoppers. As the total number of the bird is rapidly decreasing, it is designated as endangered species by IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).
In Japan, some of the birds stopped over during their migratory movement, and a part of them used to stay continuously and did not migrate back to the continent. They were commonly observed throughout Japan before 1950s. However, as the natural environment for the habitat of the bird drastically changed because of rapid economic development of the country, the total number of Konotori decreased into 20 only in 1956, and it was designated by the central government as species of animal for special protection in the same year.

History of Konotori in Toyooka
The Oriental White Stork (Koonotori) was a common animal to be seen in everyday life of Toyooka city. The city had large area of wetlands near the riverbed of Maruyama river, and also there were a lot of poorly drained paddy fields. Those swamp areas are suitable as habitats of small animals that became foods for Konotori. That might be a reason why Toyooka city became the last habitat of Konotori in Japan in 1950s and 1960s.
In 1962, Hyogo Prefecture was designated to be responsible for the conservation of Konotori, and in 1965, the first pair of the birds was captured and captive breeding activity began at the Breeding and Conservation Center in the city. Meanwhile, the number of wild Konotori continued to decrease, and finally in 1971, the last wild Konotori in Toyooka was captured but later on died, so, the bird vanished from the wild in Japan. Then, in 1986, the last native Konotori in Japan bred in captivity died.
In 1985, Six young Oriental White Storks were donated to Toyooka by Khabarovsk Territory of Soviet Union, and in 1989, captive breeding succeeded for the first time in Toyooka in one pair of Russian storks, and thereafter, the pair have reared chicks successfully every year. And in the year 2002, the number of captive Konotori surpassed 100 birds in the city. Consequently in 2003, the city government together with the prefectural government settled the Action Plan for the Reintroduction of Konotori into the wild.

Konotori Reintroduction Project
It was obviously difficult challenge for Toyooka city to implement reintroduction of Konotori into the wild, as the natural environment of the habitat of the birds totally changed from the previous days when the storks were still alive in nature. The muddy wet paddy fields were converted into well-drained “dry” fields in order to introduce mechanized farming for increasing the yields. For the same purpose, use of agricultural chemicals had become common among the farmers. In addition, in order to prevent river flooding frequently occurred in Toyooka basin, river improvement works along the Maruyama river had been implemented at many places, and the wet lands were converted into dry lands to be utilized for industrial or residential area. As a result of those changes, wild small animals, fish, and insects had lost their habitat, and consequently it was very hard for Konotori to survive in such an environment where they had difficulty to find out suitable place for nesting, breeding, and feeding.
Therefore, in order to implement reintroduction of the stork into the wild, it was urgent and extremely important to “re-create” natural environment that is suitable and friendly for Konotori. It was not an easy task, and requires cooperation and collaboration among various stakeholders, not only local governments (Hyogo prefecture and Toyooka city) to become main actors, but the farmers associations, private companies, academic and educational institutions, and the citizens’ voluntary organizations (NPOs) should be involved in the total process.
The Action Plan for the Reintroduction of the Oriental White Stork settled in 2003 pointed out as many as 75 measures to be implemented by various stakeholders. Those measures are classified into four categories; a) environmental improvement projects, b) release projects, c) education projects, and d) promotional organization. The followings are some of the projects planned and implemented.

1) Nature Restoration in Rural Areas
Promotion of biotope-like watering and constantly submerged rice cultivation / Maintenance of fish-ways linking paddy fields to drains / Creation of safe areas for aquatic life / Restoration of wetland / Establishing farming techniques of loaches
2) Management of Rural Forests
Maintenance of woodland trails and forests including pine trees / Nest tree recovery / plantation of broad-leaved trees / building of artificial nesting towers
3) Nature Restoration in Rivers
Regenerating the wetlands of Maruyama river / Releasing native fish into the river
4) Promotion of Safety Branding on Agricultural Products
Promotion of Hyogo Safety Brand system / Promotion of farming method with less chemicals and weeding technique / Promotion of conservation oriented agriculture / Promotion of the production and sale of rice in Stork conservation oriented farming
5) Promotion of Rural-Urban Exchange
Promotion of tourism with the storks as symbol / Management of allotment gardens

1) Participation
Promotion of Stork Fan Club / Promotion of the Stork Museum
2) Events
Participation in the 2005 World Exposition at Aichi / Forum for creating a region to co-exist with the storks / Gratitude Festival for the storks / International Conference
3) Merchandising of Local Products
Issuing the Stork Coupons
4) Environmental Education
Development of environment education programs / Project of scientific study support for the stork reintroduction / School in rice field / Implementation of environmental education at primary schools / Participatory environmental education at Mie area / Citizens’ movement for securing safe food / Promotion of eco-friendly consumption lifestyle
5) Information Dissemination
Documentation and Publication of the stork reintroduction plans / Audio-visual materials / Publication of maps of wildlife in Toyooka basin / Introduction of Maruyama River system
The whole plan described above was prepared and coordinated by Liaison Committee for the Reintroduction of the Oriental White Stork constituted by prefectural and city governments, central government, and various citizens’ organizations (altogether 16 bodies). The plan has been implemented by the governments, farmers cooperatives and associations, forestry organizations, fishermen cooperatives, schools, chamber of commerce, culture associations, consumer associations, and NPOs.
Three years later, on September 24 in 2005, the white storks raised in captivity were released and fled freely in the skies of Toyooka. Thirty-four years passed since their extinction in the wild. The release activity continued in 2006 and 2007. And in 2007, released storks made a pair of laid eggs, and hatched a chick to be the first one hatched in the wild in Japan in 43 years. Now, in 2008, around 20 storks are living in nature and flying in the skies of Toyooka.

New farming method; how to motivate the farmers
Among various measures planned above, the introduction of new farming method that is environmentally friendly for the storks is one of the vital activities because it is supposed to create feeding space for the birds. “White Stork Friendly Farming Method” has been developed and promoted by the Toyooka Agricultural Extension Center at Tajima District Administration Office of Hyogo Prefectural government. The center formulated “the White Stork Project Team” in 2002, and started development of the new farming method and planning of its promotion.
The team firstly asked some of the farmers interested in low chemical / organic fertilizer based cultivation to form an agricultural cooperative, and “White Stork Homeland Agricultural Cooperative” was established in 2002. The center together with the cooperative started experimental cultivation, and also held study meetings and wildlife surveys in order to know appropriate method to restore natural environment in the rice field. And finally in 2005, “White Stork Friendly Farming Method” was formally concluded and the guidelines for the method was publicized.
The requirements for the method are as follows;

a) Reduction of agricultural chemicals
b) Ordinary substance fish toxicity class A type is used in the case chemicals are used
c) Reduction of chemical fertilizers, no use during the cultivation period
d) Hot water disinfection method
e) Weed management in paddy ridges

a) Deepwater management
b) Postponement of the midsummer drainage
c) Pooling of water in rice fields in early spring

a) Use of compost and local organic materials

a) License acquisition for brand names
In 2008, the total area of paddy field where the new method is introduced has expanded into nearly 200 hectare, and around 20 farmers associations and cooperatives have participated to practice the White Stork Friendly Farming Method. The rice produced through the method is given brand name “Konotori no sato” (homeland of white stork), and now sold with nearly twice as much as the price of ordinary rice. And you can witness the impact of this method to the stork when you see the released birds flying down to the paddy field cultivated by the method to take food there.
The effort to promote “white stork friendly farming method” was driven forward by the agriculture extension workers belong to the center who tried to facilitate the farmers to take initiative for introducing the new method. Ms. Itsuki Nishimura, the leader of the project team who was an agriculture extension worker, reflected how the team worked out.
“When the project team was formed, the schedule of releasing the stork to the wild had already been fixed, so we had really limited time to promote the new farming method. Firstly, we calculated scientifically how much area of paddy field is necessary for a stork to be fed, and found out that four hectare paddy field is required for one stork. Then, we examined what kind of non-chemical and organic farming is suitable for the storks. It was also important to motivate the farmers to apply low-chemical organic farming. It requires much more care, and the yield is less compared with the modern chemical farming method. When we visited farmers, they often responded “why do we have to sacrifice our work for a bird?” In fact, for the farmers in Toyooka, the storks were considered as harmful birds because they flied down the paddy field and gave damage to the crops. So, we tried to prove that the storks do not damage any crops, and at the same time, we also tried to show that the rice produced by low-chemical organic farming is really tasty, and thus it is sold with higher price. By showing examples, we could convince some of the farmers to start the new method. The method itself was also developed through trial and error among the participating farmers and the extension workers. We studied together, examined in the field, check the result, and improved again. Once in the early days, the testing plot of the new method was fully covered by weed, and the farmers got angry for that. I myself, the other extension workers, and my family members participated in pulling out the weed. I think it was after this incident that the farmers started cooperate with us from their heart. In addition, we tried to promote the rice produced by the new method to be sold widely. We implemented consumer education activities and appealed the good taste and safety of our rice. We also conducted environmental education in schools, and the school kids now start to participate in farming practice with the new method. I think that all of those efforts made the farmers convinced to apply the stork friendly farming method. It is also important that we create clear vision of environmentally friendly and economically profitable that can appeal to both the producers and the consumers.”

Branding of the farm products
“Environmentally friendly and economically profitable” become major concern of the Toyooka city government, and it started a project to create new brand “Flying Stork” to be given to farm products with high environmental concern. The objectives of the project are a) highly added value of the local farm products, b) reducing environmental load by less chemical agriculture, and c) securing bio-diversity of the rice field. The city government acknowledges farm products cultivated according to the standard of utilization of chemicals and organic fertilizer fixed by the city. The acknowledged products are given logo mark and sticker to show the brand “Flying Stork”. So far now, rice and 20 kinds of vegetables are produced by 16 farmer groups or organizations that are given the brand. The planted acreage is around 368 hectare in 2007.

Citizens’ participation
It is not only the farmers who participated in the Action Plan for Reintroduction of the White Storks. The other residents who are interested in the bird itself, or conservation of the nature in general, also actively took part in the activities for restoring the natural environment for the stork to survive. Among them, “Konotori Shimin Kenkyujo (KSK)” (Citizens’ research institute for the storks) was established in 1998 and has been implementing various activities to restore and preserve the natural environment. They have been developing and maintaining biotopes and also restoring forest near the residential areas. The NPO (Non Profit Organization) also conducts many kinds of scientific nature surveys, and implements environmental education at the field to the children as well.
“Konotori Fan Club” is an voluntary organization that supports the government’s activities of reintroduction of the storks, as well as implementing several surveys and environmental education activities. It also collects information on the storks released in the wild from the citizens who witnessed the birds. “Konotori Shicchi (wetland) Network” was established recently aiming at supporting the government’s re-development works to restore wetland. It also monitors life of the storks released in the skies of Toyooka, and show various photos of the birds living in the wild through its internet weblog.
All the citizens’ groups or NPOs mentioned above maintain good relations with the local governments and cooperate with each other.

Sustainable strategy for environment and economy
From the experience of “Konotori Reintroduction Project” described above, the Toyooka city government derives a model of community development, “Toyooka Model” that aims at promoting regional development by utilizing existing resources in Toyooka and linking various local activities. The city concludes the experience of Konotori reintroduction as; “The Oriental White Stork Reintroduction Program is a process to create a sustainable Toyooka by re-evaluating our culture and tradition and linking people, goods, and wisdom of the area. Integrating preservation, restoration, and creation of the natural and cultural environment into the history of our 100 years of prodigious efforts to protect storks will make the city more attractive, leading to create a new Toyooka city.”
Based on the Toyooka Model, the city formulated a development strategy for sustainable environment and economy. The strategy has three major objectives to be achieved in order to create a city where economy and environment resonates; 1) Sustainability (making environmental conservation efforts economically sustainable, 2) Economic Independence (utilizing own rich resources to economic development), and 3) Pride (being proud of oneself to be a citizens of Toyooka).
According to the concept above, the city implements various activities categorized into the following five major pillars;
1) Encouraging local production for local consumption
The city supports to create a cycle of local production for local consumption where the locally produced goods (either agricultural or manufactured) can be consumed in the city.
2) Promoting organic agriculture
The city continues to promote “agriculture with environmental concern” not depending on pesticide and chemical fertilizer, observing the condition of the field carefully, and nurturing various creatures through agriculture.
3) Developing tourism
The city promotes tourism that utilizes local indigenous resources such as natural resources, landscape, tradition, culture, and foods. Konotori will be a symbol of the uniqueness of Toyooka city to attract the outsiders.
4) Attracting companies with environmental concern
The city provides various support for the activities of private companies that make profit by conserving nature, improving environment, or reducing energy or discharge.
5) Increasing utilization of nature energy
The city facilitates utilization of local natural resources (woody biomass, energy crops, sunlight, etc.) to produce energy in order to activate local economy and to contribute to prevention of global warming.

The challenge of Toyooka city to reintroduce White Storks is still on its halfway, but it brought the city valuable learning how environment and economy can co-exist and “resonate” each other. It also shows good examples of collaboration among various stakeholders, and also it teaches us the importance of the local government efforts to facilitate community-based initiatives.

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