Interview【JICA-RI Focus Vol.23】 Interview with Research Fellow Akira Murata


Interview with JICA-RI Research Fellow Akira Murata

Research Fellow Murata has involved in three research projects in the Philippines, in Bangladesh, as well as in the Middle East and North Africa since he joined JICA-RI in May 2012. A Working Paper (WP) under the research project, “Growth and Poverty Reduction in Rural Philippines” is scheduled to be released this autumn. Based on the WP, he will make a presentation at a conference organized by a government-affiliated agency in Manila, the Philippines at the beginning of October. In this interview, Murata talks about the on-going research projects that he has engaged in, along with his background prior to joining JICA-RI.

What led you to get interested in international cooperation?

Since I was a student, I have been interested in how the Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) contributes to people in developing countries. My graduation thesis in my fourth year triggered my direct engagement in the area of international cooperation. When I was searching the theme for my paper, my advisor suggested that I should select one development project rather than study ODA in general. I, therefore, focused on a Japanese ODA project at Batangas Port in the Philippines. Batangas Port is located 110 km to the south of the central Manila. At that time, narrow and crowded landing facilities and hinterland blocked efficient port operations. The project aimed to facilitate the development of the surrounding areas and to improve the flow of traffic by expanding and developing the port into an international harbor. The project also included relocating residents living around the port. In addition to reviewing relevant documents and reports, I visited the Representative Office of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) in Manila, the Philippines, along with conducting my first interview with local residents. This onsite study turned out to be a positive experience for my future research.

Will you tell us about your academic/professional background prior to your joining JICA-RI? What research area did you focus on?

As an international student, I was studying ‘overseas remittance’ at the Doctoral School of the University of Sussex in the UK. Having looked back my university life in the UK, I had a precious opportunity to discuss migration issues from different perspectives, which was not familiar in Japan. As an example, in a later stage of my doctoral course, I was invited to a conference on overseas remittance organized by the Central Bank of the Philippines. I could build a personal network through meeting with staff members of international organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Labour Organization (ILO). I was lucky to get an opportunity to work at both organizations later as an intern in the Philippines for about seven months in total. The research network developed during my stay in the Philippines has been kept ever since then. The internship timing was right because I wanted to complete my study based on the field research reflecting people’s voices in the Philippines, rather than writing up my thesis only in the UK.

Subsequently, a staff member of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), whom I met during my internship, asked me to assist his research on overseas remittance. ADB employed me as a consultant in March 2010. My main task was to research how the 2009 global financial crisis affected overseas remittance of foreign migrant workers, and how households coped with its impact. Through learning how to prepare a household survey and how to organize a group discussion, I could obtain a whole process of conducting a household survey for the research, besides analyzing data. I was also involved in the preparation of “Key Indicators 2010,” ADB’s annual report, using my expertise in econometrics. My research network was further expanded while working as a consultant for the World Bank Philippine office, and as a visiting researcher at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS). This expanded network resulted in helping me a lot conduct the on-going research projects at JICA-RI.

At JICA-RI, you have engaged in three research projects. Could you tell us about them, especially the research project in the Philippines, the outcome of which is to be published as a Working Paper?

The title of the Working Paper is “Ex-post Risk Management among Rural Filipino Farm Households.” In this study, the paper investigated the extent to which factors affected a choice of coping strategies which rural Filipino farm households have applied in the face of natural disasters or economic difficulties. The study used the farm household survey in the villages covering three provinces in the Philippines, which was conducted by JICA-RI in 2010.

Rural communities in the Philippines are economically vulnerable to a wide range of negative shocks including natural disasters—typhoons, flood and drought, and those at the individual household—sickness, injury and death of family members. Those households prone to these shocks choose strategies to cope with them, including: (1) dissaving or selling assets; (2) borrowing from neighbors/relatives/friends and banks or receiving remittances from family members and relatives; (3) reallocating labor within family members.

This study investigated factors which influence the choice of coping strategies by taking into account shock attributes (i.e. coverage, intensity, and frequency) as well as both household and village characteristics. In order to support economically vulnerable rural households, findings of this study suggest the importance of diversifying sources of income, improving agricultural infrastructure and developing social protection.

Now I will briefly explain the other two research projects that I have been involved in at JICA-RI. Regarding the “Risk and Poverty in Bangladesh” project, I am currently negotiating with several researchers to compile several important case studies for a publication. The other project is entitled “JICA-Brookings Institution Joint Collaboration Research: Achieving "Inclusive Growth" in MENA after the Arab Spring.” Focusing on the unemployment issue among the youth, we are conducting surveys on job preferences by interviewing engineering students in Egypt. Relating to this joint research project, a workshop will be organized with the Brookings Institution in Tokyo sometime this October. The final output of the study is to be released as a WP in January 2014.
(The information on both projects is as of July 2013).

Finally, I want to say that conducting surveys in developing countries requires flexibility due to unstable political and economic situations in many cases. I always bear in mind the need to prepare several alternatives when conducting research because we cannot predict what will happen there. “Be prepared and have no regrets.” It helps me keep a positive attitude in any circumstances.

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