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  • Writer's pictureDr Hezri Adnan

Decoding Asian development model

Updated: Apr 10, 2023



In 2009, I joined a group of researchers from five different countries who came together as part of the Asian Public Intellectuals Programme, funded by the Nippon Foundation. Our aim was to find out how local communities in Asia deal with their natural environment. We were a bunch of Asians who wanted to learn about Asia and Asians without hearing it from Western scholars. We were also a motley group of artists, intellectuals and activists and not researchers in the traditional sense of the word.



Fellows of the API Programme with Governor Yukiko Kada


Over the course of two weeks, the team conducted field research in two specific locations: Mukugawa and Harihata in Shiga Prefecture, Japan. These two villages were the focus of our research and gave us an insight into the complex relationship between the local communities and Lake Biwa. Our intention was to gain a deeper understanding of sustainable development practises in Asia by examining how contemporary communities respond to environmental change.


Lake Biwa has a rich geological history dating back millions of years and has been home to human communities for over 20,000 years. During this time, the relationship between people and the lake has gone through three distinct phases: Coexistence, Utilisation and Exploitation, as Dr Kada, a scientist and former governor of Shiga, described in 2012. In the Coexistence period, which preceded the establishment of the ancient state in the seventh century, villagers used the lake mainly for fishing and washing, and the lake was managed by the communities themselves. The period of Utilisation began with the founding of the state and lasted until the end of the Edo period, when the lake served as an important transport route. Modernisation then led to the Exploitation stage with all the associated problems.

With the future generation of Mukugawa.

From Biwako, the researchers, or rather the 'cultural commuters' as we called ourselves, travelled to four other locations: Ban (village) Khiriwong in Thailand, Batanes Island in the Philippines, Tasik (lake) Chini in Malaysia and finally Kali (river) Code in Jogjakarta. This journey wasn't without challenges, and the team encountered unexpected obstacles along the way. Our collective experiences are documented in the book "Living Landscapes, Connected Communities: Culture, Environment, and Change Across Asia" and filmed as Asian Environmental Documentaries (both available from arecabooks.com). The insights contained therein point to our common Asian heritage of spirituality, community solidarity and moral leadership. Despite different national contexts, the rich diversity of Asian cultures unites us and we remain friends to this day.


Learning about food foraging in the Shiga forests

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