Brazil is a fairly recent player in African agriculture, even though agriculture as a sector has long been identified as central to Latin America’s development efforts in Africa. The country has plenty of its own agribusiness successes to draw on in the largescale farming and commercial production of soya bean and ethanol, and in its promotion of smaller-scale farming in Brazil’s poorest regions. And now there is evidence of a renewed interest in Africa. Why?
Recent Brazilian initiatives include helping farmers in Ghana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to access equipment, machinery and agricultural technologies, including tractors, through the provision of concessional credit. Constran (a Brazilian company) which exports ethanol to Sweden, is a building an ethanol plant in Ghana In March of this year, Embrapa (the Brazilian Enterprise for Agricultural Research) began a genomic conservation project in Nigeria, as part of the Africa-Brazil Platform for Agricultural Innovation Marketplace.
Brazil, it is generally suggested, probably has ‘mixed motivations’ for focusing on Africa. It wants to diversify its foreign affairs beyond the North Atlantic region. Its foreign policy is predicated on promoting South–South solidarity – and making Africa an integral part of this policy provides a means of atoning for Brazil’s past role in the African slave trade, and the profit it reaped through that period. And it recognizes the opportunity an ambitious global foreign policy like this gives to occupy a top global position.
Intense diplomatic efforts underpin Africa’s relationship with Brazil today. Brazil has the fifth largest number of embassies in Africa (37 across 55 African countries). Only the United States, China, France and Russia have more embassies in the region. Consequently in the past decade, Africa-Brazil trade has soared by 500% to reach US$9 billion.
But is it all about solidarity? There is no doubt that co-operation with Africa opens a wealth of business opportunities for Brazilian companies and clearly investment in African agriculture by countries like Brazil is not only welcome but much needed.
However, there are important questions to be addressed:
To what extent can Brazil as a growing economy with a real need for raw materials, new markets and profitable deals continue to be motivated by an authentic desire for South-South solidarity? After all, there are clear economic advantages for Brazil’s renewed focus on Africa including but not limited to an increase in exports and a strengthened foothold in international markets.
Given the continents diversity, just how will governments, farmers and entrepreneurs effectively absorb and apply the models being proposed by Brazil in a way that is meaningful to specific African nations? And will cooperation be based on ‘learning rather than lecturing’?
Clearly there are contrasting perspectives, motivations and expectations regarding Brazil’s interest in African agriculture. It promises to be a topic that will continue to attract much debate and discussion.
On August 20, 2013, José Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of the FAO, underlined the importance of South–South cooperation between Latin America and Africa in agricultural development. Highlighting the need for countries with similar challenges, geographic, climate and social similarities to mutually support one another, da Silva reiterated the FAO’s commitment to ‘strengthen and channel exchanges between Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa with the aim to adopt, adapt and broaden best practices that promote agricultural development.’