The joint reseach project between JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) and the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Tanzania focused on an integrated agro-ecological study of the indigenous agriculture of the Matengo people in southwestern Tanzania, especially their Matengo pit (ngolo) system, a cross-ridge system with numerous pits on steep mountainous slopes. The study revealed the multiple functions of the ngolo system: erosion control, maintenance of soil fertility, weed control, provision of underground drainage system and so forth. The agro-ecological significance of the ngolo system could best be understood as the result of mutual interactions among ecology, society and culture in the Matengo history. Through this joint study, Tanzanian and Japanese researchers acutely recognized the need for rural development based on the indigenous farming technology, knowlege, and wisdom. Thus efforts were mounted for the establishment in 1999 of the Centre for Sustainable Rural Development in SUA as a JICA project. This article discusses the role of international cooperative activities in African Area Studies through examining my experiences in the above projects.
To recover the sense of holistic fulfillment that is noticeably lacking in communities and academic fields, area study may contribute to a resurgence of energy for rebuilding communities and recombining partitioned disciplines. The key is to abandon the belief in expertise, and to reconcile activism with the golden mean that founded classical scholarship in ancient China and Greece. On our path to this golden mean, we need to refine basic concepts and methods in area study. Above all, we need to reconsider the naive perception of area that refers implicitly to actualities in physical space and time, and to recognize three phases of area. The conventional area concept is specified as the phase of “natural area”, in which man and nature interact with each other and create active cultures and institutions. Onto this, other two phases are to be superposed, “meta-area” and “holistic area”. “Meta-area” is the phase that is reconstructed in man’s metaphysical recognition. “Holistic area”, which is comprised of these two phases, rests on the mutually sustaining balance between them. The processes of hegemonic expansion of European powers and the diffusion of the idea on man’s dominance over nature in modern times have deformed the balance of these phases, and created “parasitic meta-area” such as colonies and extravagant cities. Cloning and nuclear arms, which may endanger all life on earth, have generated fears about the appearance of new “parasitic meta-areas”. The aim of area study is the pursuit of the means to prevent the explosion of “parasitic meta-areas” by discovering the logic of “holistic area”. The conventional concept of the intrinsic nature of an area is also to be examined since the global dissemination of culture and natural elements have undoubtedly influenced the conditions of various areas. Pursuit of the golden mean in solving contemporary problems that an area faces is recommended to students with more emphasis than pursuit of differences among areas.