Lídia Cabral, Alex Shankland
Date published on SAFPI: 
Tuesday, 12 March, 2013
Date published on source: 
Monday, 11 March, 2013
Source organisation: 
Future Agricultures

Narratives of Brazil-Africa cooperation for agricultural development: new paradigms?

This paper summarises the findings of a scoping study on Brazilian development cooperation in agriculture in Africa. The study comprised, in the first instance, a review of the relevant literature and interviews with key informants in Brazil, undertaken between October 2011 and March 2012. This was complemented by an international seminar on the topic held in Brasília on May 2012, which brought together experts and practitioners from Brazil, Africa, China and Europe to discuss Brazilian agricultural cooperation in the context of South-South engagements with Africa.

The seminar represented a unique opportunity to gather and contrast experiences and viewpoints on the subject across a wide range of state and non-state actors. This initial work will be followed by in-depth research in a selection of African countries where Brazilian cooperation in agriculture is being put into practice. This process began with a series of background papers by FAC researchers in Ghana, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia and a field visit to Mozambique, site of Brazil’s most ambitious agricultural development cooperation initiative, in July-August 2012.

The paper is structured into five sections. This brief introduction is followed by an overview of the general features of Brazilian cooperation, including its drivers, principles, modalities and institutional setting. Section 2 describes cooperation with the African continent, with particular focus on its agriculture component and its growing significance. The fourth section offers some preliminary observations and hypotheses for further investigation. Section 5 concludes with some suggestions for the subsequent stage of the research.

  • Conclusion: new  paradigms?

The central questions under investigation are whether Brazilian cooperation in agriculture represents a different approach to supporting the development of African agriculture, relative to other sources of development assistance (a new cooperation paradigm), and whether it provides an alternative and enhanced model for how this sector should be developed in the African context (a new agricultural development paradigm). It would be premature, at this initial stage of the research project, to provide conclusive answers to these overarching questions, as in-depth fieldwork in countries on the receiving end of Brazilian cooperation is required before well-grounded conclusions can be reached. Nevertheless, drawing on the initial research undertaken, some preliminary remarks are worth making to help stimulate the debate and take the research agenda forward.

Middleman-free cooperation?

One distinctive feature noted is the direct deployment in Brazilian cooperation activities of professionals who have first-hand experience of the technical solutions that projects aim to communicate. In agriculture, these are potentially very relevant solutions, given that Brazil hosts world-leading expertise on tropical agriculture (and this is not exclusive to Embrapa). For these solutions to be effective and sustainable, however, the adaptation element needs to be built in. This is not only about adjusting successful Brazilian varieties to local soils, climate and pests. It is also about understanding local governance and decision-making processes more broadly – for example, having a good grasp of how agricultural research is managed and how its outputs are absorbed by producers, and ultimately consumers. What factors will shape whether rural communities in Mozambique actually incorporate orange-fleshed sweet potato or yellow maize into their food habits, even when instructed on the superior nutritional value of such varieties? The capacity to adapt fully to local contexts and needs will be the test of the added value of Brazil’s lean (broker-free) mode of cooperation.

In fact, this feature of direct cooperation may already be starting to change as larger cooperation programmes get off the ground and create a need for middlemanagement and outsourcing solutions. As noted above, a precedent may have been set by the fact that Fundação Getúlio Vargas Projetos, the consultancy arm of a Brazilian business school, has been contracted to manage a component of ProSavana in Mozambique.

The horizontal character of Brazilian cooperation is a pervasive feature of social discourse, and claimed to distinguish Brazil’s approach from the vertical nature of traditional development assistance. But in reality, Brazil’s economic, institutional, scientific or diplomatic stature constitutes a hard match for most African countries. The obvious discrepancies undermine the supposed equality of the South-South partnership.

For all the emphasis placed by some Brazilian actors on the potential of the ‘mutual benefit’ element of the philosophy of South-South cooperation to alter the foundational principles of development cooperation more broadly, Brazil has recently been taking a more cautious approach. While Lula da Silva insisted that cooperation with Africa was driven by altruistic motivations and a sense of responsibility towards the continent, President Dilma Rousseff is revealing a more pragmatic attitude – and since leaving the presidency Lula himself has become increasingly associated with efforts to encourage Brazilian private investment in Africa.

The use of international development cooperation as a vehicle for business transactions may have benefits for African agriculture, where the private sector has failed to fill the gap left by the dismantling of public services by the structural adjustment policies of the 1980s and 1990s. However, Brazil’s own experience suggests that these benefits will be unequally distributed. It is worth noting that Brazil is not alone in seeking economic advantage through cooperation – donors as diverse as the United States and China are quite blunt about the intermingling of solidarity and self-interest – but the strength of its solidarity rhetoric leaves it more exposed to accusations of hypocrisy, now that initiatives such as the Nacala Fundare beginning to reveal the extent of Brazilian business interests in African agriculture.

A holistic approach to agricultural development?

One potentially distinctive contribution of Brazilian cooperation in agriculture draws on the country’s particular model of agricultural governance, which, as discussed above, can be interpreted either asNarratives of Brazil-Africa Cooperation for Agricultural Development: New Paradigms? dichotomous or as pluralistic. The question that emerges then is how African agriculture can best benefit from this (these) model(s)? And this leads in turn to a set of subsidiary questions. Will the policy void and contrasting visions of development give rise to inconsistencies in country practices that can compromise the outcomes of Brazilian development interventions?

Or does the variety of strategies on offer make Brazilian cooperation more amenable to recipient countries’ taking ownership and guiding selective adaptation to local contexts? More specifically, will the coexistence of ‘family farming’ and agribusiness models in Brazilian agricultural development cooperation help to address the longrunning debates on small-versus-large production systems in Africa in a holistic way – or will it, instead, help to replicate a particular dualistic agrarian structure and thereby accentuate inequalities of power and access in African agrarian systems?

It appears that with the emphasis of Brazilian agricultural development cooperation in Africa currently placed so strongly on productivity and technological modernisation, alternative framings from within Brazil’s own agrarian and social policy debates have been left behind as the country makes its leap into Africa. This suggests that the arrival of Brazilian cooperation on the scene may not reinforce the narratives of pro-poor development and bottom-up participation that have dominated western development discourse, despite these narratives’ affinities with other strands of Brazilian policy and practice. Nevertheless, Brazilian actors associated with these alternative framings – from the MST to the Agroecology movement – are beginning to mobilise, questioning dominant development cooperation models within Brazil and reaching out to build alliances with civil society groups in Africa.

Ultimately, the outcomes of Brazil’s emergence as a major force in African agriculture will be shaped not only by the contestations among Brazilian actors over which agricultural development model to privilege, but above all by the ways in which African governments, farmers, entrepreneurs and civil society activists absorb and shape the application of the model(s) on offer.

The many questions raised in this paper confirm the need for further investigation of both the political economy of Brazil’s approach to agricultural development cooperation and the emerging interface between this approach and the complex realities of African agriculture. The next stage of the research will look into country experiences in detail, to test the hypotheses raised by this first exploratory exercise and to examine the dynamics of the knowledge encounters that are now taking shape in the agricultural sectors of several different African countries for evidence on how these potential new paradigms are playing out in practice.

  • Extracted from the introduction and conclusion to: Narratives of Brazil-Africa cooperation for agricultural development: new paradigms?, by Lídia Cabral and Alex Shankland, Future Agricultures Working Paper 051, March 2013. Readers can access the paper, 28 pages, here. 
  • Companion papers from the series can be accessed here.

| © The South African Foreign Policy Initiative 2012 | Developed by Octoplus