Brazil aspires to be partner, not donor

This article by Lanre Akinola appeared in ‘This is Africa – A Global Perspective’ on July, 28, 2010.

Brazil is actively sharing its experience in agriculture with Africa, and there are hopes that this might be a critical contribution towards realising the continent’s elusive ‘green revolution’

Ever since former USAID director William Gaud coined the term “Green Revolution” in 1968 to describe the technological breakthroughs that transformed the agricultural fortunes of India in the 1960s and 1970s, development efforts have sought to recreate an elusive green revolution in Africa.

Africa is the only region in the world where overall food security is deteriorating. It has gone from being a net exporter of food in the 1960s, to a net importer today. Only 6 percent of the continent’s total farmland is irrigated, and population growth currently outstrips annual increases in food production.

To address these challenges, an increasing number of countries are looking to Brazil, which has experienced its very own, more recent, green revolution. Under the banner of “South-South” cooperation, trade and political cooperation between Brazil and Africa have soared under the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Keen to share its experience in mastering tropical agriculture, there are high hopes that Brazil may offer some solutions to unlocking the agricultural potential of a continent that many believe will be vital to ensuring future global food security.

Having faced concerns about its own food security as recently as the 1970s, Brazil’s agricultural sector has undergone a staggering transformation. From the 1970s to 2005, agricultural productivity grew at an average of 2 percent per year, outpacing China, India, Argentina, Canada and the US. Between 2000 and 2009, agricultural output more than tripled from $25bn to $88bn. Today, it is the world’s second largest producer of agricultural goods.

Brazil is a net exporter of food, and in 2009 was the world’s leading exporter of beef, chicken, sugar, orange juice and green coffee amongst others. In 2008, 28 percent of total sugar and sugar confectionary imports in Africa, 18 percent of dairy products and 17 percent of cereal imports originated in Brazil.

Success has not been restricted to food production. Brazil has also developed one of the world’s most vibrant biofuels industries, and in 2008 produced 6.4bn gallons of fuel ethanol, second only to the US. Despite using just 1 percent of Brazil’s agricultural land, 45 percent of the country’s energy demand is supplied by bioethanol.

“We managed to solve a structural problem we had in Brazil in terms of lack of productivity in our agricultural production until the 70s…with the creation of Embrapa [The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation],” explains Ambassador Piragibe Tarragô, the Brazilian under-secretary general for political affairs covering Africa and the Middle East.

“It was set up related to a particular project of developing agriculture in the Cerrados, a region similar to the Savannah in Africa. It is a huge area in Brazil, about a third of our territory.”

The experience of the Cerrados region, which translates as “closed” or “inaccessible” in English, is perhaps the most striking example of Brazil’s green revolution.

“The general impression was that this was wasteland,” says Dr Francisco Reifschneider, a senior researcher at Embrapa. “Today this ‘wasteland’ produces more than 45 percent of the total grain of this country. So maybe there are other ‘wastelands’ across the Atlantic that are not wastelands at all.

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