"It's part of NEC's DNA"
20 years of paddy making: Chronicling the journey of an elementary school student participant who went on to major in agriculture at university
Aiming to restore desolate rice paddies and revitalize the environment to make it inhabitable for various species of living creatures, NEC employees and their families join together to learn about and experience the bounties of nature by taking part in activities ranging from planting rice to brewing sake. April 2023 marks the twentieth anniversary of the NEC Group Paddy Making Project. For one employee whose child—once just waist high to an adult—is now a university student, this has become the longest project in which he has been involved as an NEC employee. So what is it about NEC's DNA that has made it possible for this massive project to continue on for so long?
The gradual return of living organisms following the launch of the project in 2004
Launched in April 2004, the NEC Group Paddy Making Project is an initiative aimed at creating an environment that will enable crested ibises to return to the wild. In partnership with the authorized NPO Asaza Fund, which is engaged in environmental conservation in the Kasumigaura basin in Ibaraki Prefecture, NEC initially embarked on this project in a rice paddy field in the city of Ishioka in Ibaraki Prefecture, later expanding its activities to a rice paddy field in the city of Ushiku in 2010. One of the goals of this project has been to restore biodiversity in the satoyama (derived from the Japanese words for village and mountain to describe a place where nature and people exist in harmony) by restoring once-deserted rice paddies. As the result of the activities carried out over a span of many years, the satoyama is being restored to an environment inhabited by red dragonflies, a subspecies of the blue-tailed forest hawk (Orthetrum triangulare melania), Japanese brown frogs, and an array of other living creatures.
While the term Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is now commonly known, this was actually a groundbreaking corporate project when it began. NEC's Purpose, which is "to promote a more sustainable world," has been passed down from generation to generation, and NEC is also contributing to the restoration of biodiversity through the use of its technologies. This project has also provided opportunities to carry out ICT-based demonstration experiments such as analysis of the relationship between observation data collected from sensors and ecosystems.
In addition to the preservation of biodiversity, this project has another major goal, which is to provide employees of the NEC Group and their families with an opportunity to experience and learn about the workings of nature by planting rice in the spring, weeding in the summer, harvesting rice in the fall, and brewing sake in the winter.
While its central focus may be learning, having fun is at the forefront of this hands-on project. This is why so many employees bring their own children along with the intention of providing them with a chance to experience nature.
Yuki Tanaka still has vivid memories of the first time his father brought him to the paddy field when he was a first grade student in elementary school, telling us, "The lush greenery of satoyama, the chirping of the birds, and the insects I had never seen before were all so new to me. It was refreshing." Now, more than a decade later, Yuki is a student studying food and environmental issues in the department of agriculture at university. The path he felt drawn to choose was actually influenced by his experiences out in the rice paddy field.
How a formative experience in the rice paddy field as an elementary school student shaped his learning journey
Mowing thickets taller than he was, getting his feet stuck in a marsh and having to be pulled out by an adult, and being taught the names of insects and plants he had never seen before near his house; having grown up in Tokyo, Yuki's memories of nature as a child have always been tied to the NEC Group's Paddy Making Project.
According to Yuki, it was when he became a junior high school student that he began to see a link between these fun experiences and what he was learning at school. Then, in the spring of 2022, the formative experiences of his youth spurred him to study in the department of agriculture once he entered university.
"Once a piece of farmland has been abandoned, it can disrupt a satoyama and destroy its ecosystem. It is hard to imagine how arduous and time-consuming it would be for a company to enter a situation that even the government cannot easily compete with, and to work on revitalization. Just imagine how arduous and time-consuming it is for a single company to undertake restoration efforts that even the government cannot tackle easily. I believe that the time I spent playing in the paddy field is what makes it so easy for me to understand this now," says Yuki. He then adds, "In the future, once I have joined the workforce, I may have a family of my own. I believe this is a project that must be carried on for the next ten to twenty years and passed down to future generations."
As a student in the department of agriculture, Yuki's major is focused on agricultural policy matters, including food and environmental issues, which is precisely what he learned through the NEC Group's Paddy Making Project. His father, Toru Tanaka, who first took Yuki along with him to participate in the Paddy Making Project over a decade ago, was all smiles as he told us, "I took him with me with the intention of making memories together, so to hear him say these things now makes me realize that it also made an unexpected impact on his studies."
Carrying on and never giving up: A tenacity that is unique to NEC
Some employees have been participating in the project since it started in 2004. "Twenty years went by so quickly," says Minoru Hirose, who has been participating in the project with his family. "The crackling sound and fresh scent of new sake, and the cool of the brewery—a place where you can feel the bounties of nature with your five senses; this project was such a place for me. I long to be with the project members I worked with again. Time just passed by so quickly while I was having fun with them."
For Hirose, who will soon turn 60, the NEC Group Paddy Making Project has been "the longest project in his life at NEC." Looking back, he says, "although I feel nostalgic about how quickly time has passed by, I also understood that it was something I had to continue doing for as long as I could in order to make the experience worthwhile and make a relevant contribution. I remember well the resolve I had upon joining the project 20 years ago. I was fully determined to carry it through for as long as I could. I think that's part of NEC's DNA." Even after he retires, he still wants to continue to be part of the project. His desire to do so could be NEC's DNA in his blood coming into play.
There are more than 17,000 participants in the NEC Group Paddy Making Project. They are all doing this to contribute to the realization of the NEC 2030VISION, which lays down NEC's vision for the future of the global environment, society, and life. As well as for the realization of a sustainable society, which is part of NEC's Purpose. The will and DNA behind these aspirations are being passed down to and connect each employee—from veterans to young members, and even their families.