Kenzo Oshima, senior vice president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
BY TARO ICHIKAWA
IDN-InDepth News Service
TOKYO (IDN) - Japan has agreed on a landmark joint venture with Brazil -- home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. The project is purported to bring about 'change' in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony in southeastern Africa by transforming the savannah into arable farmland and help Mozambique attain food security.
This is the first program Japan and Brazil are undertaking in Africa.
Government officials from Japan and Brazil are due to meet in Mozambique in September to start drawing up a plan to transform the savannah into farm land, according to English-language Japan Times reported.
The mission, which will include members of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, and the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC), is expected to result in a tripartite deal that will stipulate, among others, the areas where the project will be carried out.
Speaking in Maputo at the end of a visit that the Japanese-Brazilian mission undertook this July in Maputo, Japan's ambassador to Mozambique, Susumu Segawa, said that over the last 30 years Japan and Brazil had jointly implemented an agricultural development project known as, 'Development of the Cerrado'. This had shown "quite positive results".
Segawa also said that the project had been one of the most successful in bilateral cooperation between Japan and Brazil.
Precisely that experience will go into transforming Mazambique's savannah into agricultural land.
Some 70 percent of Mozambique's roughly 800,000 sq. km is located in the Guinea Savanna area, which is believed to have the potential to cultivate crops, including soybeans, rice, wheat, corn and cotton.
While the end of a 16-year civil war in 1992 helped the country's grain production double in the last decade, Mozambique still suffers a lack of strategic farming capabilities. The country has however not been able to feed itself, and has to import over two-thirds of the 600,000 tons of rice it consumes annually.
"This is a program that will take 10 or 20 years to bear fruit," said Kenzo Oshima, senior vice president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), adding that it exemplifies the future model of Japan's official development assistance (ODA).
"We are hoping the best will come out from this new model of collaboration," Oshima, former Japanese ambassador to the United Nations and former UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said in a recent interview with the Japan Times.
The trilateral project that will provide agricultural assistance to poverty-stricken Mozambique was agreed during bilateral talks between Prime Minister Taro Aso and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on the sidelines of this July's Group of Eight summit at L'Aquila, Italy.
While a recent meeting on ODA under Aso acknowledged the program as one of the cornerstones of Japan's agricultural aid to Africa, JICA also considers it an appropriate answer to the global food shortage.
"There are various reasons that caused the food crisis, including climate change, droughts and even financial speculators," Oshima said. "But with the growing demand for food from emerging economies, this crisis should not be considered transient but rather one that requires a fundamental countermeasure."
Oshima explained that the collaboration with Brazil and the choice of Mozambique for the mission provides a win-win situation for all parties.
Experts also say Mozambique's progress was hampered by lack of foreign aid, with Portugal, the country's former colonial ruler, unable to play the role Britain did in supporting its former colonies, including Nigeria and South Africa.
Japan will not only provide financial aid to Mozambique, but also its expertise in assisting agricultural growth in developing countries. Brazil, on its part, will offer the knowhow for farming in a savannah.
Brazil, which has the world's largest production of soybeans, accomplished the feat by turning its savannah into a grain belt that runs across the country. The achievement was recognized with the 2006 World Food Prize, often termed as the Nobel Prize for agricultural accomplishments. Brazilian experts are known to be leaders in knowledge in tropical agriculture.
Oshima said Japan played a key role in transforming the vast cerrado savannah in Brazil, after the two countries agreed in 1979 to collaborate in agricultural research. The joint effort aims to transplant the knowhow gained to Mozambican land, first to feed the country and then to provide food for the continent. The venture aims to transform Mozambique into a food exporter in a matter of decades.
Brazil's emergence as an agricultural power is crucial to global food security, which has been unilaterally dependent on the United States for grain production. JICA officials believe developing Africa as the world's third major agricultural producer will stabilize the food supply, ultimately working in favour of major food importers like Japan, reported the Japan Times. Brazil will also benefit from assisting Mozambique, exemplifying the emerging economy's shift from an aid-seeker to a donor nation.
Oshima said Mozambique will not become fertile overnight, considering its shortage of research capabilities and arable land. Leftover land mines from its civil war may also threaten the safety of experts dispatched to the country.
But with the relevance of the G8 being challenged by emerging powers, Tokyo must seek new means to fulfill its responsibility to the world, he said. "We must continue seeking our own measures to assist global development," he said.
According to a JICA country brief, Mozambique achieved internal stability with the success of general election 1994, 1999 and 2004 after termination of the 16-year civil war in 1992 and democratization.
The economy registered a 9 percent growth on average between 1997 and 2002, which is one of the highest in the world. And this in spite of severe damage caused by the catastrophic flood in 2000:
In view of this, Mozambique may be described as one of the most successful countries with peace building after civil war. Though Mozambique continues to achieve 7 to 8 percent economic growth in recent years, it is still one of the least-developed countries. According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), 36.2 percent of the total population lives below the poverty line with income less than one U.S. dollar a day. Gross Domestic Product per capita was 335 U.S. dollar
In 2006, Mozambique government formulated the poverty reduction strategy paper (PARPA II) that lays emphasis on economic development with four main pillars: macro-economy and poverty, good governance, human resources and economic development.
JICA opened its office in Mozambique officially in April 2003. In October 2008, JICA was implementing assistance in a broad range of areas such as education, health, agricultural/rural development, water resources, transportation, information and communication technology (ICT).
A new edition of JICA, integrating Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) was created on October 1 last year. JICA became an entity to manage three forms of assistance: technical assistance, ODA loan and grant aid.
Relations with Mozambique play an important role in the so-called TICAD process launched in 1992 to promote high-level policy dialogue between African leaders and development partners. Since its inception, TICAD has provided fundamental and comprehensive policy and guideline on African development. At TICAD IV May last year, concrete initiatives were discussed under the theme of 'Towards a Vibrant Africa: Continent of Hope and Opportunity.'
Japanese diplomats also point to the historical background to trilateral cooperation between Japan, Brazil and Mozambique with Portuguese as a binding factor: Francisco de Xavier, well known in Japan as the a Jesuit missionary who first introduced Christianity to Japan in 1549, spent six months in Mozambique before coming from Portugal to Japan. (IDN-InDepthNews/27.08.09)
Copyright © 2009 IDN-InDepthNews Service