Understanding opportunities and challenges in Japan-Nagaland strategy
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’s Advisor and Chairman of IDAN, Abu Metha, held a consultative meeting with officials from the Japanese Embassy of India and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Monday, 18 September. The primary agenda was to discuss and enhance bilateral relations between Nagaland and Japan.
During the meeting, Metha emphasized the importance of strengthening people-to-people contact and positively impacting the livelihoods of the region’s residents. He expressed the desire for increased partnerships in various fields, including development, livelihood enhancement, nature conservation, biodiversity, and climate change.
Unique India-Japan Relationship
Notably, despite New Delhi’s restrictions on foreign investments in the sensitive border regions of Northeastern India, a unique relationship exists between India and Japan. Northeast India has become integral to Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision (FOIP), a strategy aimed at ensuring free trade routes in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Japanese Ambassador to India has said in his 2021 visit to Guwahati, “The North East is situated at the convergence of India’s Act East Policy and Japan’s vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
According to Rupakjyoti Borah, professor in JNU, the Official Development Assistance (ODA) from Japan to Northeast India exceeded 231 billion yen (approximately $2 billion) as of January 2021.
This special treatment can be attributed to the fact that both India and Japan have refrained from participating in the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Their collaboration seeks to provide high-quality infrastructure in various parts of the world, particularly in light of China’s assertive stance in the region.
Potential Role of Japan in Nagaland
In one of the chapters of a publication titled, “Infrastructure and Industrial Development in Northeast India: Exploring the Potential Role of Japan” (2022), published by the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Dr Shonreiphy Longvah identified key areas where Japan’s investment could transform Nagaland. These areas include agriculture, human capital, forest resources, and establishing an environment of peace and stability.
Agriculture and Sustainable Food Production
Dr Longvah noted that many Naga farmers are engaged in subsistence farming and are not market-oriented, which leads to substantial agricultural imports, including rice. Nagaland’s limited cultivable land presents an opportunity for Japan to invest in sustainable food production scientifically while respecting ecological objectives.
Educational Challenges and Employability
The study also raised concerns about the employability of Nagaland’s students due to the educational system’s focus on quantity over quality. This issue exacerbates the problem of “Educated Youth Unemployment” stemming from inadequate skill development and a preference for government jobs. She points out that the deeper and firmer root of all these issues is the lack of quality education, corruption, and bad governance.
Forest Resources Management and Challenges
Regarding forest resources, considering that the forest cover of the state is thinning year by year, primarily due to “Jhum Cultivation,” she notes how JICA is already investing an approximate amount of INR 400 crores for the management of forest resources in Nagaland since 2017 and to address the challenge of Jhum cultivation.
Stating that Nagaland Forest Management is the only area where Japan has directly invested so far, she wrote how investing in forest resources management is a ‘launched venture’ where Nagaland is given 40 years to repay the loan. However, she observed that, currently in its fifth year, the fruit of the project is yet to be seen, particularly in terms of strengthening the capabilities of the people to improve their livelihoods and alleviate poverty among the cultivating population in Nagaland.
Experts have been pointing out various challenges for this relationship including coordination at the local level between Japanese entities, the ongoing Naga Political issues, the mountainous terrain and also the fact that all Northeast states are in different stages of development.
In light of these complexities, the consultative meeting between Abu Metha and Japanese officials marks a promising step forward in strengthening ties between Nagaland and Japan.