【Special Interview】SAA's New Managing Director, Ms.Emiko Mutsuyoshi
The Origin of Passion for International Cooperation
From Inspiration to Action: A Journey into Overseas Forest Conservation
As a high school student in 1985, I came across an article in a newspaper featuring the International Year of Forests, addressing the disappearance of tropical rainforests due to factors like deforestation and slash-and-burn farming. This sparked my interest in overseas forest conservation. Driven by a desire to contribute to environmental issues in developing countries, I decided to specialize in forestry during my university studies.
For my work, I initially considered applying for the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), but I found that, at that time, only men were allowed to apply for the forestry sector (you may be surprised) and so I went on to work at JICA.
Understanding Poverty in the Philippines
My initial assignment took me to Manila, Philippines. While I had previously visited developing countries on business trips, it was my first time living in one. What I experienced was absolute poverty in rural areas. Observing the harsh truth that suggesting "Let's conserve forests" was impractical for people living hand to mouth, I deeply felt the imperative for comprehensive community development and empowering residents as essential measures to alleviate poverty.
Driven by a simple curiosity to understand people's lives more profoundly, I spent my vacation visiting rural areas with Filipino friends. We ventured into the mountains without electricity and communities residing near the Smokey Mountain slam, sharing accommodations with them. Through the experience of eating together and spending nights with local friends and their family under one roof, I was struck by the kindness and cheerfulness of the people, and it also made me think about what development means. These experiences have become the origin of my passion for international cooperation.
Through my Involvement at JICA
Sustainable Development that Endure beyond Project Completion
At JICA, my involvement spans many years in managing technical cooperation, particularly in agriculture and forestry, where projects entail technical advancement, institutional development, and capacity building in tandem with respective governments. The process involves multiple stages, substantial time, and collaboration among all stakeholders before newly developed technologies and methods are disseminated and embraced by farmers, leading to increased agricultural production and improved livelihoods. I have made particular efforts to ensure that the project will continue to produce results even after the project is completed, taking into account social considerations and consensus building among all parties involved. I believe that SHEP, which is also promoted by SAA, is a very good approach that can increase agricultural income by empowering frontline extension workers and farmers.
Furthermore, I was also involved in promoting a JICA’s Initiative for Food and Nutrition Security in Africa (IFNA), engaging with international organizations and donors to garner support. Collaborative international efforts like CARD, SHEP, and IFNA coordinated by JICA in its agricultural cooperation with Africa, serve as effective frameworks for nations to unite around shared objectives and methods, facilitating wider adoption of proven technologies and approaches across regions. It is very important to scale up impacts to realize developmental benefits beyond just specific project areas of success.
Impacting through Communication
While I believe this is also an area under exploration for SAA, during my time in JICA's performance evaluation department, I delved into how to express JICA's accomplishments. To communicate the value of JICA's work to external evaluation committee established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I learned the significance of not only quantitative analysis with established indicators but also the use of qualitative expressions and effective visuals, including photographs.
Leading Transformation: JICA Tsukuba's Agricultural Co-Creation Hub
At JICA Tsukuba Center, where I assumed the role of Director General from 2022-2023, stands as the sole JICA center equipped with rice paddies, fields, greenhouses, and experimental setups for agricultural training. At the center, training sessions in agriculture, disaster prevention, and climate change are conducted throughout the year for about 600 government officials from developing countries. The program stands out for its distinctive offering of year-long training in rice and field crop cultivation techniques, catering specifically to officials and extension workers in Africa and Asia.
As an "Agricultural Co-Creation Hub," JICA Tsukuba aims to be a platform where Japanese companies exploring expansion into Africa, local communities, and students interested in international cooperation could exchange information and engage in joint training and engage in dialogue with trainees to explore agricultural cooperation together. We emphasized the significance of all stakeholders in agricultural cooperation, including trainees from developing countries and our staff members, discovering new values and acting as communicators of those values.
Bringing Experience to SAA
From Vision to Achievement
My decision to join SAA was motivated by a strong desire to engage closely with field of international cooperation. I admire SAA's extensive experience in Africa, dedicated to enhancing the livelihoods of farmers through the dissemination of agricultural technology and I believe that SAA's projects effectively address the real needs on the ground, capitalizing on the presence of capable staff in each country to offer technical guidance. As the economic, social, and natural conditions in each country are undergoing changes, I’d like to commit myself to support how best SAA can achieve even higher results.
SAA is an organization with a rich history and exceptional talent. Drawing on the tradition of "Walking with the Farmer," I aspire to identify works that only SAA can undertake. I also aim to communicate SAA's significance in agricultural development in Africa to outside world.
Work and Parenthood
Ms. Mutsuyoshi, a pioneer among working women, has two boys—now a junior high school and a high school student—while managing her career. How did she find the balance between work and childcare?
I always assumed that I would continue working even after getting married and having children, ruling out the option of quitting my job. However, balancing work and childcare has been a huge challenge for me, and I would describe it as nothing short of "desperate." The unwavering support from my parents and husband allowed me to embark on business trip to Africa when my child was just one-year old, highlighting the indispensable role played by those around me.
For mothers who work while raising children, my advice is simple: don't set expectations for perfection. Everything will fall into place eventually, so maintain optimism. However, in moments of urgency or difficulty for your child, prioritize their needs. The key to maintaining a balance between personal and parental responsibilities is to practice forgiveness and refrain from demanding perfection.
Building a Culture of Mutual Respect and Appreciation at SAA
Currently, SAA comprises approximately 15 staff members in Tokyo and a total of 170 staff members in Africa. I hope that we all go one step beyond superficial communication to understand each other's work more deeply and contribute to building a better organization where we can work with respect and appreciation.