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December 27, 2010

2010: The Year in Review
An Interview with President Sadako Ogata

JICA President Mrs. Sadako Ogata recently sat down to review development issues during the last year and to look ahead to 2011.

Question: In the global development world, what was the single most important trend during the last year?

Mrs. Ogata: Until now development tended to be looked upon as an ‘addition' or a ‘hang on' which might sort of help national policy, but it was never central to it. Now, in countries like the United States and Japan, development has become a major policy pillar along with diplomacy and JICA is taking responsibility for a good part of Japan's development aid.

From JICA's perspective, what was the most positive development?

JICA merged with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation in 2008 allowing ‘New JICA' to provide technical assistance, grant aid and yen loans for the first time. That is a most positive development and no one is questioning the utility of the move. Administratively, we completed our reorganization in 2010 and have now become ‘one' and it is time to begin to deliver practical results.

What does this mean going forward?

Now, the challenge going forward is to make sure we deliver clear and positive results from that integration, to reinforce the substance. We are beginning to readjust some of our policy priorities. Until now we have concentrated on Asia, with excellent results. But following the merger there are certain things that require more emphasis and others which should be considered as done. Offices around the world, particularly in Asia, have been re-examining their overall structure and expected project results.

Will this entail structural and personnel changes?

Despite strict budgetary constraints we would like to strengthen our field presence, to expand project programs in developing countries. This has been examined and discussed and that implies personnel reductions at headquarters and more staff operations in the field. This is complex and a big challenge to us because after the merger we began to administer ‘soft loans' and this requires a heavy staff commitment to oversee all the necessary planning and implementation process.

Were there any setbacks in 2010?

Following the installation of a new government, there was a major examination of JICA's activities. I accept there were areas which could be improved and a reasonable cutting back which has already started. But in terms of particular programs, we were not able to convince the legislative branch as much as we had hoped about the importance of various field priorities.

Were there any major strategic or geographical shifts by JICA in 2010?

There were no major changes. Supporting the world's least developed countries is our basic obligation. At the same time we must ensure that the needs of countries with different priorities are also met. We must maintain a global antenna.

In difficult economic times it is vital to convince the general public of the importance of development assistance. Is this happening?

We are struggling. We are struggling because we have not been able to explain the relevance of our work sufficiently well and the challenges in a rapidly globalizing world. It is a complex situation to explain the importance of helping developing countries at a time when Japan itself is being ‘hollowed out' by the direct investment of Japanese industries to some of those same nations. Unless Japan's own economic situation improves we will find it increasingly difficult to justify large-scale development assistance. We have to prove this global give-and-take will be mutually beneficial.

What are the immediate challenges going into 2011?

We have completed our administrative reorganization. Now we must closely examine our operational commitments—geographical and project priorities—and this will result in moving perhaps another 100 staff into field positions in the very near future.

What will be the effect of the recent Nagoya conference on global biodiversity on JICA operations?

It has become widely recognized that ‘biodiversity' impacts daily on the lives of everyone, and as such the issue has become important to JICA and it will probably result in a higher priority. As will our efforts to achieve the 2015 U.N. Millennium Development Goals where Japan has made a very clear commitment. Results thus far have been mixed. Some targets—the MDGs aim to drastically reduce global poverty and related health, education, gender, environment and other issues—require a lot of time. However, it has to be understood that these goals can only be achieved within the context of overall economic development.

Will you continue to focus on Africa?

Many basic development objectives have already been achieved in Asia. In contrast, Africa is still in the ‘spreading out' phase of development. Only a modest amount of the world's ODA (official development assistance) goes to Africa though JICA's own technical operational budget to the continent has increased rapidly to around 33% in fiscal 2010. We will continue to advance new projects and new areas of development though the budget will probably remain stable for the moment. Next year we will review our achievements and examine where we should go from here in time for the 2013 Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). That meeting will agree a road map for the continent for the next four years.

There has been a lot of speculation about China's role in Africa.

There is a lot of work required in Africa. We have opened up some windows of consultation with China. Healthy competition would be a very good thing for the continent.

JICA is increasingly emphasizing the importance of closer cooperation in development. Does this include China in Africa?

As far as possible joint projects go, why not for the future? Though I don't think it's quite gotten to that stage yet.

What is the situation regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Afghanistan is very important and is JICA's largest challenge. We have been engaged in areas such as agriculture, urban development and water supplies, and we must ensure, in close cooperation with the Afghans themselves and a whole range of international players, that what we are doing remains relevant to the overall situation. The related issue of Pakistan is also very high on the agenda. Many of the issues facing the two countries are related, but at the same time they must be approached independently and with flexibility.

And other areas?

It will be important to devote more attention to Sri Lanka as that country stabilizes (following the end of the prolonged civil war there). We are also reviewing how to cooperate more fully with regional structures such as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) while maintaining traditional bilateral ties.

What is the situation in Iraq and the Middle East?

We opened an office in northern Iraq two years ago and have made a lot of progress there. Hopefully we will soon have representation in the south. Despite its oil, agriculture was important to Iraq before it was destroyed and helping to restore that in the coming year will be important. There is the Corridor of Peace in the Middle East (a Japanese initiative to promote closer ties between Israel, Jordan and Palestine) and in the Jordan Valley JICA is helping to improve agriculture and establish an industrial park there. Despite all sorts of hurdles we are making slow but steady progress.


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