Narratives of Brazil-Africa Cooperation for Agricultural Development: New Paradigms? / by Mark Langevin

Lídia Cabral and Alex Shankland of the Futures Agricultural Consortium (FAC) have released a concise descriptive and analytical treatment of Brazil’s expanding agricultural cooperation in Africa, “Narratives of Brazil-Africa Cooperation for Agricultural Development: New Paradigms?” This article is a must read for understanding Brazil’s foreign policy in the region as well as international efforts to assist Africans make the move toward commercial agriculture.


Brazil’s economic stability and growth during the last decade have opened up a number of possibilities for international cooperation, including, but not limited to a growing economic and political footprint in Africa.  This growth is best expressed through the evolution and increasing stature of the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC) under the direction of the Foreign Ministry (Itamaraty). Indeed, ABC’s budget has grown threefold between 2008 and 2010 under the direction of Marco Farani (page 7).  ABC’s development assistance is framed through a set of criteria that reflect the Brazilian state’s overarching foreign policy principles, including: 1) joint diplomacy based on solidarity; 2) demand-driven action in response to demands made by recipient countries; 3) efforts to recognize local experience and adapt the Brazilian experience to local conditions; 4) no imposition of conditions; 5) no association with commercial interests or profit; and 6) no interference in domestic issue of partner countries.


Cabral and Shankland do not fully evaluate the application of these criteria, and certainly note that there are increasingly overlaps between ABC assistance and the increasing presence of Brazilian transnational corporations such as Vale and Odebrecht.  Rather than drawing direct linkage, the authors suggest that the activist foreign policy of former President Lula in the region, and his current non-official role in bring Brazil and Africa together, both drove ABC toward a greater role in Africa, especially the Portuguese speaking countries, and the growth of Brazilian FDI and expansion of Brazilian headquartered transnational enterprises into Africa.


In 2009, ABC spent $362 million USD or approximately 0.02% of the GDP of the country, but that 68% of this total was dedicated to membership payments to International Governmental Organizations with technical assistance comprising only 13% of the total (page 6).  Much of the technical assistance was provided in concert with Brazil’s Agricultural Research and Extension agency, EMBRAPA, whose role in Africa continues to expand and develop.  During the period from 2003 to 2009, the number of technical assistance projects directed by ABC grew from just 23 in 2003 to 418 by 2009, demonstrating both the growth of ABC and the new dimension of Brazilian foreign policy, international cooperation through development assistance.  Most of these technical assistance projects are administered by either EMBRAPA for agriculture or the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (FIOCRUZ) in the area of public health.


Clearly Africa has become the focus for ABC and its technical assistance projects with 57% of all projects in 2010.  With the five Portuguese speaking countries accounting for 74% of all of the African projects and Mozambique becoming the largest recipient country (page 9).  In addition to the work of ABC, EMBRAPA and FIOCRUZ, Brazil’s development bank, the BNDES, has increased its activities as well, offering favorable credit facility programs aimed at Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) who are venturing into the African marketplace.


EMBRAPA presence in Africa has expanded in part due to Brazil’s growing foreign policy focus on the region and in part because the African savannah shares many of the same productive characteristics as the Brazilian Cerrado region that has now become the epicenter of modern Brazilian agriculture. Indeed, the announcement that EMBRAPA would create the Center for Strategic Studies and Training on Tropical Agriculture (CECAT) in part reflects the commitment of EMBRAPA to expanding its technical assistance programs in Africa.  Along with the emphasis on tropical agriculture, the ABC and EMBRAPA work in Africa also reflect Brazil’s dual commitment to developing family farming while also strengthening agribusiness through investments in infrastructure and the encouragement of profitable scales of economy.  Brazil’s cooperation through the “More Food Africa Program” and the “Food Acquisition Program” attempt to assist family farming in the region while also supporting efforts to obtain food security.  In addition, EMBRAPA supports a growing number of efforts launched by Brazilian agribusiness groups to develop commercial scale agricultural projects in such countries as Mozambique and at the invitation of recipient country governments.  Currently, the Brazilian and Japanese governments are working with Mozambique to implement a number of EMBRAPA administered technical assistance programs alongside a growing contingent of private firms and groups working with Mozambique organizations to deepen commercial agriculture in the country.


Cabral and Shankland suggest that such rapid growth of ABC and technical assistance in Africa will likely set off an institutional reform process to focus responsibilities and tasks, rather than mixing them with the direct and traditional diplomatic activities carried out by the Itamaraty; and that such reforms will likely evolve through a confluence of Brazil’s altruism in Africa alongside the growing private sector role in the region, all within Brazil’s growing projection of geopolitical power through its growing association with Africa.  These authors’ working paper provides a sturdy description and analysis of the process in recent years; and forms a foundation for future studies of Brazilian foreign policy in the region and efforts to contribute toward African rural development for some time to come.  Moreover, they suggest that Brazil's role in Africa may indeed provide a new paradigm for development assistance. Stay tuned.