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food / travel

In Fukushima, An Electronics Maker Bets On Farming Inside Factories

Inside the Panasonic vegetable farm in Singapore
Inside the Panasonic vegetable farm in Singapore
Yann Rousseau

FUKUSHIMA — In 1970, electronics company Panasonic inaugurated a factory in the Japanese city of Fukushima to assemble radio sets. In the 1980s, when Japanese electronics were at their peak, the site expanded to produce video material and CD players. In 2011, the earthquake that destroyed the Daiichi nuclear power plant left the Panasonic factory intact. Today, the Panasonic plant is being used as a laboratory for revolutionary new farming techniques.

At the end of the corridor in the factory, where GPS systems for vehicles are still assembled, a sign reads: "Field entrance." You have to take off your shoes, put on plastic overalls, a surgical mask and a protection hood before you enter the decontamination airlock. "We mustn't bring germs into the crops," says Matt Matsuba, who works in the company's agriculture division.

The 1,200-square-meter indoor "field" has shelves that are five meters high. On them, there are 30 varieties of leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach, which are grown without soil. Mineral nutrients are used to grow the plants in white trays under blue and red neon lights. "We have a special lighting that helps better develop the flavors, certain nutritive characteristics and to accelerate the vegetable's growth," Matt Matsuba says, after he samples an incredibly sweet lettuce.

In Singapore's first licensed indoor vegetable farm — Channel Panasonic - Official

Panasonic believes it can guarantee high yields using a battery of sensors and by managing temperatures efficiently. "We use 60 percent less electricity than traditional neon lights," Matsuba says, adding that Panasonic owns all the necessary technology for this cultivation technique .

"With these solutions, we can solve issues related to global warming , soil or water pollution, or even the drop in the number of farmers," says Yukinori Matsumoto, one of the directors of technology development at Panasonic.

Panasonic is already selling its lettuces to local supermarkets. It has also been marketing its pesticide-free vegetables to the restaurant industry. The company's priority now is to sell "out-of-the-box farms." One has already been installed in Singapore.

"There's a huge potential especially once we've reached almost complete automation," Matsuba says.

Inside the factory, the grow trays are moved along rails by a sorting machine. The company is testing a robot that's capable of gently transplanting, with tongs, minuscule sprouts.

Panasonic calculates that such a factory is profitable with just six employees and a daily production of 200 kilograms of lettuce. Moreover, the company believes it doesn't need professional farmers. Employees at the plant come from the company's former cellphone division, which has ceased to exist.

Panasonic continues to restructure its activities, and hopes its competitors will soon join the movement. "We need it, in order to create a real market," one manager says.

Toshiba, a multinational conglomerate, which had previously shown interest in the experiment, recently closed a similar factory in Yokosuka, near Tokyo. Sharp, an electronics maker recently acquired by Foxconn, another electronic manufacturer, seems reluctant to continue in that direction as well.

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How A Xi Jinping Dinner In San Francisco May Have Sealed Mastercard's Arrival In China

The credit giant becomes only the second player after American Express to be allowed to set up a bank card-clearing RMB operation in mainland China.

Mastercard has just been granted a bank card clearing license in China.

Liu Qianshan


It appears that one of the biggest beneficiaries from Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to San Francisco was Mastercard.

The U.S. credit card giant has since secured eagerly anticipated approval to expand in China's massive financial sector, having finally obtained long sought approval from China's central bank and financial regulatory authorities to initiate a bank card business in China through its joint venture with its new Chinese partner.

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Through a joint venture in China between Mastercard and China's NetsUnion Clearing Corporation, dubbed Mastercard NUCC, it has officially entered mainland China as an RMB currency clearing organization. It's only the second foreign business of its kind to do so following American Express in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the development is linked to Chinese President Xi Jinping's meeting on Nov. 15 with U.S. President Joe Biden in San Francisco, part of a two-day visit that also included dinner that Xi had with U.S. business executives.

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