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Japanese fast-food chain to farm in Fukushima

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Illustration: customers dine at a Yoshinoya fast food restaurant in Tokyo. The company says it will start farming produce in Fukushima (AFP/File)

Major Japanese fast-food chain Yoshinoya said Tuesday it would grow rice and vegetables in Fukushima prefecture, home to the nuclear plant that was crippled by a tsunami in 2011.

Operator Yoshinoya Holdings said it had set up a joint venture with local farmers -- called Yoshinoya Farm Fukushima -- to grow rice, onions and cabbages in a 4.3-hectare (10.6 acre) field in Shirakawa, 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the nuclear plant.

It will also build a facility to process vegetables for use in Yoshinoya restaurants across the nation, the firm said, adding strict radiation screening measures will be put in place.

"We believe this will lead to support for reconstruction," Yoshinoya said in a statement, adding the move would also help it secure low-priced ingredients for its beef bowl dishes.

Large swathes of Fukushima were evacuated after a nuclear emergency erupted in March 2011 when a quake-triggered tsunami smashed into a nuclear power station on the coast, sending reactors into meltdown and spreading radiation over a wide area.

Tens of thousands of people are still unable to return to their homes around the plant, while the government has lifted exclusion zones in some areas.

Farmers across Fukushima, a relatively large area that is mainly unaffected by the disaster, have complained about plunging prices for their produce.

Consumers, wary of the taint from the nuclear disaster, continue to avoid food carrying the Fukushima tag.