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Japanese overseas volunteer is bullish on aid projects

By Takashi OkaStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 17, 1987



Malalos, Philippines

`I'VE come to see how your cow is doing.'' So Ohori, a gangling six-footer, greets the stocky, T-shirted farmer in Tagalog. He has just pulled up at the farmer's concrete-block, galvanized-iron-roofed house on his trusty Honda, a journalist friend in tow.

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The farmer, obviously pleased to see Mr. Ohori, invites us to sit on stools in the fresh morning air outside his house where palms sway in the breeze and bougainvillea is blooming. Beside the door hangs a painted plaque: ``God bless our home.'' His name, he says, is Martin Maklang, and he farms two hectares (five acres) of rice paddies. He also has four cows. One of them was artificially inseminated three weeks ago, and Ohori has come to see whether she has become pregnant.

Ohori is a livestock technician from Tokyo who works as an ``overseas cooperation volunteer'' - Japan's equivalent of the Peace Corps. He has been in the Philippines since March 1986, and is thinking of extending his tour by a year when it comes to an end next March.

``We're just beginning to recover from the confusion caused by [deposed President Ferdinand] Marcos's downfall,'' he said, ``and I'd like to stay on a bit longer to help see things through.''

The overseas volunteers are under the jurisdiction of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which sends aid experts to developing countries. Japan's whole aid effort is now under intense scrutiny by the United States and other Western countries, which complain that Japan should be doing a lot more in this field.

Japan's aid is now second only to that of the US in monetary terms. Last year it stood at $5.6 billion, and by 1990 it should be $7.6 billion. Last week, Japan offered Southeast Asian nations a new $2 billion aid package.

But Japan's aid budget is only 0.29 percent of its gross national product, less than half the United Nations target of 0.7 percent. Also, Japan's ``grant element'' - the proportion of aid that is a grant rather than a loan - is considerably lower than that of other Western countries.

That said, Ohori and his fellow volunteers are an impressive example of the saying that aid is people.

Ohori is one of nearly 1,700 volunteers who have signed up for two-year stays in 38 countries. Ninety-four of them are in the Philippines, where they work in agriculture, health, education, processing, construction, sports, and maintenance.

Ohori's expertise is in animal husbandry, specifically in artificial insemination, a program that has been a feature of Japanese technical aid for 20 years. It costs a peasant 100 to 200 pesos ($5 to $10) to have his cow serviced by a seed bull. Artificial insemination, a government program, is free, and over time will improve the scrawny backyard cow most peasants raise and take to market.

That's the theory. In fact, less than 40 percent of impregnated cows conceive. The techniques that work in scientifically controlled agricultural experiment stations can not easily apply at the backyard level.

This is the story of development everywhere. Ohori's task is to observe, to follow through, to continue with the record-keeping begun by his predecessor, and thus help improve the program's success rate.