Japanese Development Assistance
in Developing Countries' Agriculture
Gerda van Roozendaal
Keywords:  Japan; Sri Lanka; Pakistan; Chile; Germplasm conservation; Abiotic stress; Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
Correct citation: Roozendaal, G. van (1995), "Japanese Development Assistance in Developing Countries' Agriculture." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 22, p. 13-16.

With a budget of about US$ 11 billion in 1993, Japan is the largest governmental donor in the world. In 1993, Japan announced it would increase its Official Development Assistance (ODA) to US$ 70­75 billion worldwide for a 5­year period from 1993 onwards. ODA funds used for the promotion of agriculture in developing countries are channelled through various institutions. In this article, two of these are presented: Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is a semi­governmental aid agency, and Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS), a governmental reserach centre which is partly funded through Japanese ODA.

The largest part of Japan's ODA, about 80 per cent of the loans and 50 per cent of the grants, is directed towards Southeast Asia. Some countries, such as the Philippines, Thailand and China rely for more than half of their total bilateral foreign aid on Japan. The reason for this geographical bias is twofold. Firstly, most of the Japanese ODA in Southeast Asia began as war reparations, and continued after they were fully paid. Secondly, Japan wants to develop Southeast Asian economies, both to increase its export to these regions and to satisfy its domestic demand through imports from these countries, as in the case of seafood. Recently, Japan has slowly changed its regional focus to other areas of the world.
Japanese ODA has always been characterized by a heavy focus on large­scale infrastructural projects. Although this still accounts for about 40 per cent of total funding, it seems that currently more attention is being given to diversified development assistance, including NGO support.
Criticism, however, is still continuing with regard to (for example) the assistance to grassroots projects. In 1989, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs budgeted about US$ 2.2 million for the first time for so­called 'small­scale assistance', to be apportioned by Japanese embassies. An additional US$ 0.8 was released for projects by independent NGOs. At that time, the latter sum was about 0.01 per cent of the total ODA budget. Since the majority of these funds go through embassies, the personal interest of ambassadors may guide the aid allocation, while ODA control is limited.
Additionally, there is another reason for concern that affects Japanese ODA as well as the ODA of many other countries. The director of the ODA Research and Study Group, Murai Yoshinori, warns that a large percentage of the ODA is recycled through Japanese firms. Often it is trading, construction or consulting firms that formulate projects, which are approved and financed by the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) or the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) afterwards. More often than not, all the architectural and contractual preparations have been made before the ODA experts visit the site. Moreover, even if a local company from a recipient country is allowed to participate, the project specifications often require Japanese standards, meaning that in the end the materials have to be bought from Japan.

ODA covers bilateral and multilateral assistance. The bilateral assistance consists of grants in the form of grant aid co­operation or technical assistance, and low­interest loans (Yen loans). The latter accounts almost half of the total ODA budget. JICA is responsible for a large part of the bilateral grants, and OECF for the loans. Involved in the most important ODA activities in the field of agriculture, forestry and fisheries are ministries and JICA. Through multilateral assistance, Japan contributes to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Technical co­operation at JICA
JICA is in charge of the technical co­operation under the bilateral grants. The budget of JICA grows by 4 to 5 per cent annually. One of its most comprehensive activities is a project­type of technical co­operation, which has three major elements: dispatching experts, providing equipment, and accepting trainees. Starting in 1955 by dispatching 28 experts in five Asian countries, JICA had 2,571 experts working in more than 100 countries in 1991. More than 25 per cent of the experts are in the field of agriculture and forestry.
Besides technical co­operation, JICA supports grant aid co­operation projects. The financial assistance under the grant projects is spent on the procurement of facilities, equipment and services. Special attention is given to improve fishing and farming facilities and inputs. Often the technical co­operation is extended on the basis of grant aid.
One of the most interesting activities in the area of biotechnology is the support for genetic resources conservation. Currently, three projects have been implemented in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Chile. The choice for the three countries was made on the basis of feasibility studies. For Japan, Chile is of special interest due to climatic similarities between the two countries.

Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan project aims to strengthen the conservation activities in the national Plant Genetic Resources Centre (PGRC) in collaboration with local research centres. Before the establishment of PGRC, there was no institute responsible for the collection and conservation of germplasm of indigenous varieties. PGRC collects, characterizes, evaluates, conserves and multiplies germplasm. It also seeks to strengthen the role of regional genebanks in Sri Lanka. This concerns for the largest part, if not totally, ex­situ conservation.
The project includes a grant aid component. In 1987, this grant aid made the construction of infrastructure (buildings, green houses, etc.) possible before the technical co­operation started in 1988. The technical co­operation consists of dispatching experts, providing equipment and training of Sri Lankan personnel.
Initially, food crops such as rice and grain legumes, were the main focus of the project. However, as a result of a policy shift of the Sri Lankan government from field crops to high­value crops such as horticultural crops for both export and domestic use, the mandate of PGRC has broadened.
During an evaluation in 1992, the following observations were made. A total of 9106 accessions have been collected, which is less than expected, due to the civil war in Sri Lanka. Of those, 1,415 accessions have been collected through international and national institutes from other countries. Among the achievements are:

According to the evaluation committee, the most pressing problem is the maintenance of equipment, which affects the sustainability of the project. Perhaps it is in the light of this that the Sri Lankan government has requested to store some of their genetic material in Japan.

The main aim of JICA's conservation project in Chile, which started in 1989, is the co­ordination of several existing conservation activities. This execution of the project has been complicated due to the decentralization of the existing conservation activities, which has been stimulated by the Chilean government as part of its liberalization efforts. The mandate of the project is to promote crop improvement, including the utilization of biotechnology in, amongst others, fruit trees, vegetables and oil crops breeding.
JICA posts Japanese experts, trains personnel and supplies equipment. Under the project, the construction of a base bank and three active banks at the Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias (INIA) have been completed. By 1993, 2,307 accessions had been collected. Maize, soya bean, forage and berries have been stored as base collections. As a result of in vitro conservation techniques, potato and sweet potato have been stored. Transfer of breeding technology and biotechnology has been carried out on grape embryo culture, asparagus micropropagation, rape seed microsporophyte culture, rice anther culture, chromosome counting techniques, and others. There has not been sufficient advancement in the breeding of oil crops. Exchange of information and research material has taken place with neighbouring countries, but the exchange of breeding material with these countries has not yet taken place.

The project in Pakistan was implemented in 1993 and aims to strengthen activities and establish effective methods through the transfer of technology for collection, preservation, and distribution of plant genetic resources. JICA's activities include dispatching three long­term experts, the training of two counterparts and the supply of equipment. A major aim is the introduction of plant genetic resources from abroad, including Japan. Among the research objectives are in vitro preservation and cryo­preservation of germplasm of vegetatively­propagated plants such as potato and fruits, and determining the agronomic characters such as drought and salinity resistance. The conservation strategy often includes the biochemical characterization of plant genotypes through electrophoretic analyses of proteins or randomly amplified polymorphic DNAs (RAPDs) and restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLP) tests of DNA.
With respect to these conservation projects, JICA has a shortage of Japanese experts to post, or to monitor and evaluate the projects. Furthermore, it feels restricted to stimulate the transfer of genetic material on a large scale, due to restrictions various governments have on the international transport of this material.

Other biotechnology research at JICA
Two projects specifically addressing biotechnology are the project for the development of biotechnology in Malaysia and the Plant Biotechnology Research Project at the Chiang Mai University in Thailand. The Malaysian project started in 1990 and aims at the enhancement of the Department of Biotechnology at the Universiti Pertanian Malaysia. Research and education in the field of enzyme and fermentation technology, tissue culture, molecular biology, and genetic engineering, and bioprocess engineering are supported through this project. The project in Thailand intends to contribute to plant biotechnology research in, amongst others, tissue culture and protoplast culture.
On the level of individual grants, more small­scale research is supported. For example, through research conducted in co­operation with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA, Nigeria) a method was developed to produce tofu (a product of fermented soya beans), using a natural local coagulant easily accessible to Nigerian producers.

New challenges for JIRCAS
Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) was established in 1970 as the Tropical Agricultural Research Center (TARC), with a primary interest in the development of agriculture and forestry in less­developed nations. It is affiliated to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery (MAFF). The direct funding through ODA is 30 to 35 per cent of the total JIRCAS budget.
Due to the perceived need by MAFF to promote the internationalization of agriculture, TARC was reorganized in 1993 into JIRCAS. Problems on a global scale such as sustainable food production, environmental issues and desertification are being addressed. JIRCAS has begun to carry out studies in the field of socio­economic and natural sciences to analyze the prospects for the development of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Besides the addition of fisheries to its mandate, its geographical scope was broadened. Formerly JIRCAS' scope was limited to the tropics and subtropics, but the new priorities cover wider geographical zones, such as the temperate zones (for example the Andean highlands of South America and Eastern Europe).
To secure control over its research products, JIRCAS applies for patents on processes and products. To support research activities overseas, the staff of JIRCAS has increased from 150 to 170. 40 JIRCAS researchers are engaged in research institutes in developing countries. At the same time, co­operation with research institutions at various levels, such as in the CGIAR network and research institutes in developing countries, has been intensified (see box). Through the implementation of a research fellowship programme, human capacity building is also receiving more attention.

Agricultural research at JIRCAS
The research priorities are set in co­operation with research units in developing countries and often projects are formulated at the request of developing countries. The current research projects and achievements of JIRCAS' Biological Resources Division include a wide variety of interests:

Selected collaborative research projects between JIRCAS and CGIAR-Centres
IRRI: The development of a stabilization technology for rice double cropping in the tropics.
ICRISAT:  Sustainable cultivation of inland crops in semi-arid tropics; Analysis of environmental changes in agricultural land after forest clearing in the tropics, and development of sustainable land use systems
IITA: Studies on the eco-physiological characteristics of cowpea in the savanna area of West Africa.
ILRAD: Biochemical characterization of membranes of lymphocytes infected with Theileria parva schizonts.
ILCA: Biochemical characterization of membranes of lymphocytes infected with Theileria parva schizonts.
CIAT: Eco-physiological studies on upland rice roots in relation to adaptability to savanna soil in South America; Eco-physiological studies on the persistency of tropical pasture plants in the savanna of Latin America. 
Source: Keiji Kainuma (1994), "Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences". Farming Japan, vol.28-4.

Fisheries and forestry divisions
The Fisheries Division of JIRCAS conducts research on marine and freshwater fishery resource management, aquaculture, and fishery product processing. Over the last 20 years, the Japanese mariculture technology and industry have developed substantially, and the aim is technology transfer, and collaboration on intensive mariculture research projects with developing countries.
In 1990, Japanese NGOs criticized the assistance for the booming Southeast Asian shrimp farm industry, and especially the ODA support for the National Research Center for Shrimp Hatcheries in Malaysia, for its lack of environmental and social considerations. In the opinion of the NGOs the increase of farming ponds would be at the expense of mangrove ecosystems, which are a very important source for the livelihood of the coastal fishing people. JIRCAS claims not to be deaf to these problems and has started research on sustainable fish production. Current research aims at the development of a hybrid form of aquaculture, which should combine traditional methods and intensive ones.
JIRCAS' Forestry Division currently implements a project on the identification and characterization of mycorrhizal fungi related to the growth and on the survival of Dipterocarps, and the control of insect pests attacking fast­growing tropical legume trees.
Japanís rice research success

A genetic linkage map for rice has almost been completed by Japanís Rice Genome Research Program (RGP). Established in the late 1980s to understand rice genetics, two of the main goals of RGP are to produce a gene map of the 12 rice chromosomes and the complete sequence of the rice genome.
What would be the advantages of this research effort? First of all, genes could be identified and isolated which in turn could lead to the creation of more productive and disease-tolerant strains. Secondly, it would facilitate the genetic manipulation of rice plants which has recently become reality. Already the regeneration of tissue-cultured rice plants and the expression of foreign genes in rice plant has been achieved. Finally, some also expect that the study of rice increases the understanding of other, genetically more complex cereals such as wheat.
Responsible for the project is the semi-governmental organization Society for Techno-Innovation for Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (STAFF), while 160 industries, such as Kirin Beer, are represented in the project. What started as a public-private sector project to establish Japanís plant molecular biology reputation, broke through when the Japanese Racing Organization started funding half of the projectís annual budget of US$ 5.5 million. Since product development by companies as a result of the research efforts never materialized, it is said that the project has become more and more a scientific attempt instead of a commercial one. Therefore, in spite of the private sector involvement, RGP is relatively open with respect to information exchange with other research groups in the world.
Sources:  J.K. and Jeffrey Mervis (1994), "Send in the Clones". 
Science, 18 November, p.1187.
Jane E. Stevens (1994), "Japan Picks a Winner in the Rice Genome Project". Science, 18 November, pp.1186-1187.

Limitations of ODA
Although the regional orientation of Japanese ODA is shifting slowly to parts of the world outside Asia, some regions still receive little attention. JICA, for example, keeps a low profile in the Sub­Saharan African region because the countries there often have a small technological base. They are usually unable to acchieve significant results within the duration of the projects (max. 7 years), and are unable to finance the local costs of a project, two normal requirements of JICA projects. This all seems to be more reason to support these countries.
Additionally, it is striking that a participatory approach in global development aid seems to have passed by the Japanese ODA activities. As is the case with the aid of many other developed countries as well, conservation is almost exclusively ex situ, and the incorporation of farmers in conservation activities seems to have no high priority. Consultation of farmers in setting research priorities appears to be ignored by the programmes described above. Technology and knowledge transfer are the main components of the world of Japanese official aid.
Gerda van Roozendaal

AMPO (1990), 'The Aid Business'. AMPO Japan­Asia Quarterly Review, vol.21 no.4, pp.2­9.

AMPO (1994), 'The ODA Bid­Rigging Scandal: Interview with Murai Yoshinori'. AMPO Japan­Asia Quarterly Review, vol.25 no.3, pp.2­5.

R.A. Forrest (1991), 'Japanese Aid and the Environment'. The Ecologist, vol.21 no.1, pp.25­32.

JICA, For the Future of the Earth.

JICA (1992), Note of Understanding on Joint Evaluation of Japanese Technical Co­operation for the Centre for Plant Genetic Resources Project.

JICA, Master Plan Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Chile.

JIRCAS (1994), Newsletter for International Collaboration, no.2 and 3.

H. Seko and P. Paroda (1993), Summary Report of the Joint Evaluation on the Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Project in the Republic of Chile. Santiago.

Personal communications with Keiji Kainuma and Kazuko Yamaguchi­Shinozaki (JIRCAS), Nubuo Kato and Nubuo Murata (JICA).

Contributions to the Biotechnology and Development Monitor are not covered by any copyright. Exerpts may be translated or reproduced without prior permission (with exception of parts reproduced from third sources), with acknowledgement of source.


back to top
monitor homepage
index of this issue
contact us