Better International Cooperation

Through the activities of the Muscat Fund both in Japan and overseas, we continue to consider the following points for better technical and international cooperation.

Cooperation between ODA and NGOs

The Muscat Fund believes that it is important to achieve visible results through continuous support. So-called "projects", which are generally implemented by many ODA, are carried out for a limited period of time by "cutting off" the period or region. However, people's lives go on regardless of such restrictions. On the other hand, many NGOs are thought to aim for long-term, long-lasting activities freed to some extent from the constraints of such "projects". There have been discussions in the past about the importance of aiming for better collaboration between ODA and NGOs in order to implement more effective international cooperation. In fact, since its establishment, AAI has maintained a close relationship with the Non-Profit Organization Association Sahel, sharing an office, and making use of each other's experiences in their respective activities. Especially in the field of afforestation in arid regions, we have collaborated on technology development and on-site adaptation based on the idea of "root designing". In 2019, "Group BIC (Better International Cooperation)" was established mainly by members of FAI, AAI, and Association Sahel, and regular discussions are held for better international cooperation. Through long-term experiences and discussions, we strongly feel that how to effectively utilize the resources available in each region will become an extremely important point of view. From the limited examples of our past activities, we believe that it is important to have the following perspectives for better technical and international cooperation.

Reference 1: AAI News 25-30: Partnerships between ODA and NGOs
Reference 2: AAI News 12-58: Root designing

Cooperation with Local Staff (Effective Use of Human Resources) 

The effectiveness of microcredit has been recognized worldwide through the activities of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. In the activities we conducted in Zimbabwe as well, we decided that it was important to provide excellent seeds for promoting vegetable cultivation activities in group gardens and provided funds in the form of input credits. As a result, the group that used the loan used part of the income from the production to repay the loan, and the initial investment was used as the revolving fund over a long period of time. A major reason why this activity was continued in an ideal manner was thought to be the high level of ability of the organization that implemented fund management. When the Fund selected this organization among many local NGOs, we set various conditions and made a careful decision. Despite the small scale of the loan, the organization managed it meticulously so that it could be used sustainably. Being able to collaborate with such a reliable local NGO was thought to be a major reason for the overall high evaluation. Finding reliable individuals or organizations seemed to hold the key to success in order to make effective use of local human and organizational resources. 

In order to enhance teamwork with our counterparts in our ODA activities, we have always valued the connections between people in the field. We believe that the relationships of trust we have cultivated in this way can be effectively utilized in ongoing on-site activities even after the completion of the project. Currently, in Syria, a human resource development program in the irrigation sector is being implemented in collaboration with local staff (former counterparts of technical cooperation projects). While communicating through remote meetings, the local staff are promoting local activities appropriately, contributing to the spread of kitchen gardens for local small farmers and women's groups. Such cooperation with local staff can be said to be one form of "better international cooperation". We feel that the groundwork for developing NGO activities in collaboration with local staff has been laid. If that happens, the spread of kitchen gardens in the field will be sustained, and we believe that this will be a model for "better cooperation between ODA and NGOs". 

Balancing Livelihood Improvement and Environmental Conservation (Effective Use of Physical Resources) 

In carrying out technical cooperation in developing countries, it is extremely important to achieve a balance between improving the livelihoods of local residents and preserving the local environment. Especially as part of the recent climate change countermeasures, its importance is being recognized worldwide. This is regarded as one of the important selection criteria in the selection of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS). The activity in Indonesia in which we participated was thought that increasing the commercial value of Tengkawan oil would lead to the conservation of natural forests and contribute to both improving the livelihoods of residents and preserving the local environment. With exactly the same way of thinking, we have also participated in forest coffee activities in Ethiopia. These are attempts to combine increased cash income for local residents with reduced deforestation. On the other hand, there is also the idea of contributing to local residents through the provision of comfortable spaces for urban residents and the recharge of water resources, as in the Midorization activities in Jordan. Currently, the domestic firefly conservation activities that we are involved in are directly linked to the conservation of local water quality and biodiversity. The open burning that takes place in various parts of Japan also contributes to the conservation of local biodiversity. In many cases, the effective use of animal and plant resources through the continuation of the traditional economic activities of the region contributes to the conservation of the local environment. We believe that planning and designing activities based on an accurate understanding of these mechanisms is an extremely important perspective for future technical cooperation.

Reference: AAI News 97-102: Toward sustainable forest conservation 

Provision of an Opportunity for Information Sharing (Effective Use of Informational Resources) 

We believe that it is extremely meaningful to have an opportunity to share information for the promotion of local activities. In the activity we conducted in Ushimado, Okayama Prefecture, we established a training center “Ayn” as a place and/or an opportunity for information sharing. In discussions with local organic farmers' groups, it was suggested that they would be more willing to accept young people who wished to participate in farmer training if they could provide lodging facilities at low cost to the trainees. Furthermore, it was suggested that if there were a place where organic farmers could freely meet and talk, it would lead to the promotion of local activities. Therefore, the Muscat Fund rented a vacant house that could be used for accommodation and meetings, and operated it with a local group for several years. Partly because the operation of the training institute became a burden for some farmers, it was used only for accommodation and lectures during agricultural experience training for some university students and was not actively used after that. We think that if the fund could play a central role in managing the operation instead of entrusting it to the local community, it would have been possible to use it more sustainably. At the site of agricultural and rural development in developing countries, providing opportunities for discussions between farmers and extension workers or between researchers and extension workers, as well as opportunities for discussion such as committees and councils, are extremely effective in promoting local activities. We felt that it was a useful means. We believe that the provision of such forums and opportunities for information sharing is an essential perspective for promoting technical cooperation in the future.  

Social Welfare Perspective (Effective Use of Social Resources) 

In Japan, there are organizations called social welfare councils in each prefecture and municipality, and various organizations are engaged in welfare activities in developing countries as well. We practiced horticultural therapy at a school for the mentally handicapped in the suburbs of Damascus, the capital of Syria. Horticultural therapy aims to obtain physical, mental, intellectual, and social benefits by growing plants, and to restore impaired functions. In other words, the purpose is not to evaluate the quality of harvested products or the amount of harvest, but to heal the target person through gardening work or to obtain a sense of accomplishment. In Oman, we also planned forest restoration cooperation through exchanges with organizations of persons with physical disabilities. As part of the functional recovery of the physically handicapped, the planting project, such as the transplantation of seedlings, was introduced, and the planting and restoration of vegetation were carried out with the participation of local residents. Neither of these activities could be sustained, but we felt that if they were implemented well, they would lead to better technical cooperation. Since we are currently involved in the activities related to universal agriculture in Japan, we would like to accumulate further experience through this activity and seriously consider ingenuity to implement better technical cooperation from the perspective of welfare.