Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Donald Nordeng (USA)
Organic certification organization president
(He’s been in Japan since ’88)
These days our interest in organic products is increasing here in Japan. Japanese people are said to be those who have been enjoying the beauty of nature since the dawn of time. And especially women have a desire to maintain their healthy and beautiful skin. My Eyes Tokyo believe these are the reasons we’ve accepted human-friendly and green organic products.
We’ve met Donald Nordeng, who runs an organic certification organization, when we interviewed his wife, Elok Halimah, a vice chairperson of a foreigner aid organization.
First we will tell you what he feels about living in Japan with another foreigner and what he thinks of the foreign aid activities that his wife is working on. Then let’s explore his history and philosophy.
*Interview in Mizonokuchi, Kawasaki
Japan is a neutral place.
My wife, Elok Halimah, is Indonesian and I’m American. So even if we go to Indonesia, I’m a foreigner. And if she goes to America, she is a foreigner. So in a way we are both in Japan. We are both foreigners in this country. It’s a kind of neutral place in some way. We both speak Japanese and we both are foreigners in a foreign country. In that sense, it’s balanced.
Japan is a good place to live. Safe, great transportation, great healthcare, lots of opportunity. Even now, we are very lucky to be in Japan from an economic standpoint.
I think my wife’s activities at the foreigner aid organization in Kawasaki are great. I might join myself. I think that organization is not just for Kawasaki City but really anywhere. It’s a good model for incorporating minority opinion into government regulation. I’m proud of my wife’s service and also I’m proud that I’m living in the city where they have such a system.
*If you want to know about Elok Halimah and her foreigner aid activities, click here!
Leaving Western for Far East.
I came to Japan on April 2, 1988. I came here from the state of Wisconsin with a working visa. I didn’t know anything about Japan. I didn’t speak Japanese but Japan was the foreign country I wanted to live in. I wanted to live in a non-Western country or English-speaking country.
I was born and raised in United States, though I wanted to get outside of that American or Western culture. There were not many options. I wanted to live in a modern country. But I didn’t think deeply about it so I didn’t go to Hong Kong or Singapore. Kind of inspiration. My classmate of university said, “Do you want to go to Japan?” and I said yes. He also wanted to come here but he didn’t.
I was planning to stay here for one year.
Things that led me to organic.
Before that, I was a student. I was working from the time I was 11 or 12. I had part-time jobs every summer and paid my way through school. It was mainly a firming work.
When I was in high school, I studied a book about environmentalism. That book had quite a significant impact. I read it and took a bird watching course in high school.
You don’t make money from birds. But they live in nature. One of the things you notice when you study birds is that agricultural or forest chemicals influence bird populations. It means food that birds eat is influenced and maybe humans are also influenced. On the contrary, what is good for birds is good for people. That’s what got me interested in organic later.
Building career in Japan.
One year after I came here, the economy wasn’t so good in the US but it was really good in Japan. So I decided to stay one more year. It was bad in US when I left. That’s one reason I left there.
I was working in a corporation training as a English trainer. I worked there for two years and then I got a new job at the Asahi Evening News (Herald Asahi), one of the English newspapers in Japan. I worked there for one year and a half.
After that, I got a job at a small import company which was importing organic food. I worked there for almost three years.
But after the second year, I decided that I wanted to have another job. Because the salary wasn’t so good. I wanted to supplement my salary so I started business on the side.
The time to be on my own has come.
It was a kind of marketing service for companies that want to have an agent in Japan. You have exporters and importers. The exporter is in the US and the importer (distributer) is in Japan. They can’t meet and talk to each other. But the exporter doesn’t have a staff person in Japan. So he/she has no way but to trust the Japanese partner (importer/distributer) 100%. It’s an imbalanced relationship.
So you need to have an agent or representative in this country to balance the relationship between importers and exporters. So exporters hired me, someone who was on their side but lived in Japan. That was my part-time job. I was an agent for organic certification. It’s the business I’m in now.
I negotiated this new job to be full-time and we incorporated. Then we brought in a new partner and reincorporated,
Organic food will be cheaper than regular one
I think the culture here is quite interesting. People have very specific requirements for food. It’s high-standard.
I think it’s a good place to be in a food business. There’s a lot of people who really appreciate the quality of products. Organic products tend to be a little bit more expensive because they are of higher quality. And they come with the environmental component paid for. So you don’t have environmental cost hidden in the organic products which are a bit more expensive.
But it’s good for agriculture because you don’t use chemicals that go into the water. Water goes into the river and the river goes into the ocean. Then you would have pollution. But in organic, you don’t have this kind of pollution. So it’s much better value for the society.
That cost is not included in the price of the conventional products so it’s cheaper right now. But eventually it will become the same price or more expensive than organic because of the price of fertilizer or price of gasoline. These prices right now are artificially low. But as the fuel prices increase, it becomes more difficult for conventional farmers to sell cheap food or regular food.
Offering a training program to the whole world.
People buy what’s cheap. So it’s a very long process of changing people’s attitudes. Organic food needs more people power and people power is expensive. If you have a lot of power, it’s cheap. So it fits the developing countries much more than the developed countries.
The thing that I would really love to support is promoting organic agricultural methods in the developing countries. Because it’s not impossible to improve their soils and improve their lives, everyone’s life.
The other thing is that organic soil absorbs CO2. Regular soil also does but organic one absorbs 15-25% more. So it’s quite a good way of battling global warming.
I am doing that now. We have a lot of clients in Africa, South America and Asia. We are working on creating a training program that’s online and multilingual. That will allow people to learn about organic farming and organic certification. Our company is creating that system for education in Japan. Now it’s in only English but eventually it will be in Japanese, Chinese, French, German and Spanish. That way, we can cover most of the world.
I want to improve developing countries to be more organic.
My long-term goal is to have all of the developing countries have 10% or more organic agriculture. Japan has 0.19%. It’s mainly because of farming structural difficulties, not the technology problem.
So I don’t focus improving the percentage in Japan. Focus is improving on the developing world to be more organic. And Japan will naturally become more organic because the market is already here. People in Japan want to buy organic products because they care about their food.
Most of the time, people in developing countries don’t have any money for seeds or fertilizer. They don’t use chemicals right now. But the problem is that they also don’t know how to do organic farming. So someone has to teach them.
My goal is to teach the teachers. I don’t expect that I’m going to teach farmers in Malawi. But I do expect that I’ll be able to teach teachers in Malawi who will teach the farmers. People who are already in the agricultural sector may be open to these ideas but they don’t have the information. So we can provide information at a low cost by using the online training system.
What is Tokyo to you?
Tokyo is my second home. My wife is here so that’s where I belong. And I’ve learned a lot here so it’s a kind of school for me. A school of life.