October 12, 2011
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has come together with Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd. MUJI to collaborate in planning eight of the items for MUJI Christmas Market 2011, proposed by MUJI as Christmas gifts. Producers supported by JICA's One Village One Product projects in Kyrgyzstan Republic and Kenya will create products per MUJI specifications to be purchased directly by MUJI and marketed as Christmas gifts. Advance sales are scheduled to begin on October 13, with nationwide sales in Japan to begin on November 11. These products are planned to be sold in MUJI stores located in countries throughout the world as well.
The One Village One Product movement is an initiative that began in Japan's Oita Prefecture with the aim of utilizing community resources to develop specialty products and vitalize the community. The disparity in the standard of living between agricultural and urban areas is large in developing countries, and farmers in these countries have few opportunities for cash income. Based on experiences through the One Village One Product movement in Japan, JICA has begun working on development in rural areas through the One Village One Product movement with a focus on agricultural villages in developing countries. Specifically, projects support the vitality of regions through the use of regional sightseeing resources as well as through the promotion of local industries by developing and selling products made with local materials and resources in countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
In the One Village One Product projects supported by JICA, the markets in which products are to be sold are being developed along with product development and technical support for production. For this initiative, JICA is using the power of the private sector to expand overseas sales routes for products made through the projects in Kyrgyzstan Republic and Kenya, which have already received the support necessary for product development and sales route expansion. This has further improved the effects of development, and moreover, has had the effect of building mass production systems as well as improving production and management techniques toward the goal of achieving quality control practices and quality levels similar to those of Japan. These activities are also expected to lead to an increase in interest and concern on the part of those who buy these products, who may not have thought about the conditions in these developing countries before.
A great deal of feedback has been received on these projects already. One producer commented, "We had never given much thought to standardizing quality and size, but this really helped us learn how to innovate to create thousands of products with the same quality." Another said, "There is a limit to how much time you have from order to shipment, and we learned how to make plans and manufacture products more methodically." Yet another observed, "Each group cooperates in creating products, resulting in a cooperative relationship that we never had before."
At the present time, producers have no systems for product inspections, needle detection or packaging, so those operations have been carried out in Japan, and from the perspective of cutting costs and ensuring sustainability, establishing local inspection and packaging systems are issues to be dealt with going forward. The lessons learned through this cooperation will be put to use in future projects and in solving problems that have come to light through it.
Aid organizations and a variety of other players, including non-governmental organizations, foundations and private businesses, have been broadening the scope of activities in these developing countries. JICA's hope is to further strengthen ties with such players in an effort to provide more effective assistance.