Brazil-Africa: Interview with Marco Farani, Director of Brazilian Agency of Cooperation
Minister Farani, Brazil and its model f development cooperation are still poorly known in Africa, and so is the impact of Brazilian aid in recipient countries. Only Coastal Lusophone countries such as Angola, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique remain in regular contact with your country. What characterizes the Brazilian model of international cooperation? With china having an extensive leverage in most Africa countries, including Ethiopia, where would the role for Brazil lie?
Technical cooperation for development is new for Brazil. It began timidly in the first term of former President Lula, between 2002 and 2006, then accelerated when Lula began traveling in developing countries, particularly in Africa during his second term. Over this period, we learned about the difficulties faced by African countries. We reached this awareness thanks to the new approach to foreign relations adopted by the Brazilian government. Indeed, since then technical cooperation has become a pivotal tool for Brazil’s foreign policy. It is important to emphasize that our country has a lot in common with Africa. Africa has had a great influence on Brazil at a cross-cultural and ethnic level. Today over 50 per cent of the Brazilian population claim to have African roots. Like Africa, Brazil is a developing country. Moreover it belongs to the South of the world. Exactly like Africa, Brazil is experiencing strong economic growth, but social inequalities are still strong.
The fight against poverty remains a national priority, together with the development of new policies for employment, health and education. With that said, we have a lot to offer to the African continent. Our country has strong public institutions and good practices that we can offer to our African friends to strengthen their public policies. To do this, Brazilian technical cooperation follows the belief according to which we must first listen to the requests of African countries in which we operate. Each case requires a reflection on the value added that Brazil may bring in an industry that is fueling the demand from our partner countries. Whether we work in the social, cultural or agricultural sector, the philosophy is always the same.
How do you operate specifically?
We send our experts to Africa so that they can collaborate with their African counterparts. Today, Brazil finances approximately 170 projects in thirty African countries, especially Lusophone countries, for linguistic and historical reasons. But since 2008, Brazil has decided to diversify its bilateral relations, particularly with Benin, Tanzania, Kenya and more recently in North Africa.
What are Brazilian cooperation’s main targets?
We operate in many areas, but we give priority to professional skills and institutions strengthening. This is what makes the difference between us and development cooperation in Western countries, which funds are considerably higher than Brazilian funding.
And what is the actual amount of the annual aid budget? How is it distributed both geographically and thematically?
As I said, Brazilian cooperation is still young. The annual budget of the ABC is around $50 million dollars, which is very far from the billions of Euros provided by the European Union and its Member States. But Brazil doesn’t just intend development cooperation as technical cooperation. According to the report we published in 2010, between 2005 and 2009, Brazil provided $4.6 billion to international cooperation. Half of the amount was dedicated to six areas: technical cooperation, that is to say ABC; Cooperation in Science and Technology; humanitarian aid and the education sector, through scholarships granted to students from Africa and other regions; regional funds such as the African Development Bank, and finally the funding to the UN. To this we must add 2.2 billion donated to debt relief. Latin America and the Caribbean are regions which have benefited the most from our support, they received about 50 per cent of the total amount of our aid, followed by Africa with 19.6 per cent and Asia which received 5 per cent of the Brazilian development aid. As you can see, the annual funding of the ABC are minimal compared to the billions generated annually by the government financing of development cooperation mainly through its ministries.
What are the challenges faced by Brazil in this specific area?
I imagine that one day Brazil will be obliged to create a large agency to coordinate its development aid. Meanwhile, our efforts are constant and the President Rousseff has already pledged to raise funding for less developed countries.
Some experts argue that Brazilian aid only offers technical assistance which is just provided by Brazilian experts. Yet in Africa there is a skilled workforce to work with the Brazilians. Why doesn’t Brazil lean on the local workforce? What are the reasons for this choice?
Our experts work closely with African experts. I want to emphasize that we don’t prepare projects that can be applied to any African country, all of our projects are tailored to the needs and demands of our partners.
But does your agency recruit African experts?
These experts are regularly invited to training sessions or technical meetings, conferences, and so on in Brazil. A year ago, when Mr. Graziano was campaigning for the position of Director General of FAO, he traveled to Africa. We carried on a research to know the number of experts Embrapa, the Brazilian agricultural research corporation, sent to Africa in 2010 as part of projects supported by the ABC. We identified more than 160.
In October 2011, the European Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, presented the so called “Agenda for change”. This new EU development policy should provide for the almost total exclusion of Brazil from the countries benefiting from EU aid, in order to favour poor countries, particularly African countries. What do you think of this strategic change in Brussels?
Development projects are an important tool for strengthening relations between Brazil and the European Union. It is unfortunate that European Union has decided to put an end to it, even if the Agenda for Change does not provide for a total suspension of European aid to Brazil. Some will argue that European funds will no longer be available to Brazilians, but this is a secondary problem. The experiences which Brazil and Europe have shared through development cooperation have enabled Brazilian and European institutions to share a common worldview. This is a major issue in development cooperation, it allowed us to get closer and to better understand how to address the biggest global challenges such as poverty and environmental protection , all over the world including in Africa. Having say that, I understand the decision to concentrate European aid efforts on the poorest countries.
Last October Brazil signed in Busan the final document on aid effectiveness. Piebalgs welcomed the role played in South Korea by the ‘new donors’ such as China, Brazil and India while stressing the need to make further efforts on the transparency of their aid development policies which he said “is still lacking.” How do you react to that?
I would immediately point out that Brazil has no concern with transparency. We conducted a study that was made public and which drew up a five year balance sheet of Brazilian cooperation for development. On this occasion, we called in experts from the OECD to compare our methodological approaches to the quantification of our aid efforts. We even decided to publish this study annually. So there is no problem of transparency.
The European Commission seems also regret the lack of partnership between the EU and emerging markets in Africa …
Brazil-EU-Africa trilateral cooperation is the focus of our talks with Brussels. Despite a program adopted by all stakeholders in the dialogue, no project has emerged as the EU has very strict rules on development aid.
In 2005, the European Union committed to ensure that all policies adopted by the EU in sectors such as agriculture, trade or industry, which have an impact on developing countries, does not harm EU’s development policy and the fight against poverty. Does a similar approach exist within the Brazilian government?
The Government of Brazil and the Brazilian private sector have a great sense of responsibility, especially when it comes to Africa. Our actions are also scrutinized by our national press, which is free and independent. Having say that, it is important to remember that for decades Brazil was completely folded on itself, our openness to the world is very recent. Our policy of international development cooperation is still in a development phase, but positive progress has been made over the recent years and this is reassuring.
During the 38th ECOWAS summit held in 2010 in Cape Verde, President Lula spoke about cooperation between Brazil and West African countries. What has your country done to implement this idea, since then?
We sent a mission during a recent meeting of ECOWAS and two months ago a large number of representatives from the Economic Community of West African States came to Brazil to better understand our social, economic, political and cultural model. Finally, we attended a great seminar with the European Union and ECOWAS, devoted to Brazil’s good practices in the field of development cooperation. These initiatives will result in a regional project in West Africa. The main objective of this project is to strengthen the agricultural sector, particularly food crops.
Cape Verde is an African country that has close relations with Brazil. For a long time we have talked about Cape Verde being a platform for the Brazilian market of CEDEAO. Where are we at on this?
Cape Verde is a middle-income country where institutions are strong and where there are about twenty technical development cooperation projects which are supported by the Brazilian government. Unfortunately, Brazil has failed to convince businesses to settle in this country, whose geographical position in West Africa is strategic.
What can Brazil expect in return for an opening on Mali? And what should Malian citizens expect from Brazil?
I cannot speak about investments. However, speaking about technical cooperation, I would like to mention a great project that we achieved in the cotton sector. In 2009, Brazil signed an agreement supporting the development of this sector for a period of three years. In collaboration with the ABC, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Agency introduced in Mali ten new cotton varieties, which are adapted to the local climatic conditions. We have also provided a technology transfer in the fields of culture and research. Unfortunately, due to the conflict we have been forced to suspend these development programs. It’s a pity because for the second phase we had planned to organize a seminar on cotton with the private sector to highlight the possibilities offered by technology transfer from Brazil to Mali.
Strong historical ties between Benin and Brazil through the history of the slave trade. The Nago or Yoruba diaspora in Benin forms the backbone of families of former slaves settled in Brazil. At the cultural level, Brazil keeps the Yoruba and Benin roots and at the same time, the old families who returned from Brazil make up the fabric of modern society in Benin. What is the relationship between black or mixed race Brazilians, and the land of their ancestors?
Brazil and Africa have many similarities which are not just limited to culture and religion, but their histories have some common traits, including colonization, economic development, the structure of the population, foreign affairs, not to mention the environment, agriculture and mining. The past and present challenges face by Brazil and Africa are very similar. The struggle for equality, food security and economic development are the most striking examples. On the other hand, the cultural ties between the two sides of the Atlantic are reinforced by initiatives sponsored and promoted by the Brazilian Government, including the Conference of Intellectuals from Africa and from the Diaspora and the World Festival of Negro Arts.
Do these links make cooperation between Benin and Brazil easier and in which areas would the people and the Brazilian authorities like to see it grow more?
Given the similarities that I just mentioned, the Brazilian experience and methodologies are easier to adapt and implement in Africa. Techniques and know-how are better understood because they share the same foundations and principles of those present on the African continent. This explains to some extent why the Brazilian cooperation in Africa has grown so much in recent years. However, the Brazilian government does not have an area of focus, our technical cooperation is driven by demand. Besides the Brazilian Cooperation Agency is the public institution which better meets the demands of our partners. As long as Brazil has experience in the sector where the government is urged, and that this experience has been tested and it has been approved at the national level, projects will be negotiated and executed.
During his trip, some years ago in your country, Benin’s President Boni Yayi, became interested in the progress of Brazil, an emerging country, in the area of biofuel. A commission of experts from Benin and Brazil, have been established to study the feasibility of an experiment of biofuel production in Benin. Is Brazil really close to export its expertise in this area? What benefits can it bring to Benin, which is predominantly an agricultural country with economic problems related to the rising prices of agricultural products? Given that agricultural products are missing in Sahel and that Brazil is an agricultural surplus country, are there any cooperation measures between your country and the region of West Africa in this sector?
The ABC is currently supporting several projects in the agricultural field, ranging from research to rural extension and public policy. One of the most famous of the Brazilian Cooperation Agency is in West Africa, this is the Cotton-4 project which aims to adapt local cotton varieties and our Brazilian harvest techniques. This project involves cotton producers in the region, particularly in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, by providing infrastructure and enhancing local capacity. Family farming is a priority and harvesting techniques have been increased f to ensure food security in partner countries. From a strategic standpoint, the project is designed to provide both income and food for small farmers.
Can biofuel really be the way for Benin and other African countries to solve its energy and pollution problems?
Sustainable production of biofuel could help promote social and economic development, particularly in Africa. It would reduce the need to import oil and its products, it would reduce reliance on traditional biomass for household energy, promote the production of electricity using biodiesel in rural areas and finally it would allow to export surplus production. To assess the potential benefits of biofuel production in countries such as Benin, it is necessary to perform a feasibility study. Thus, from a partnership that includes the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), a feasibility study in the UEMOA region will be launched by the end of the year. Benin should be part of this study. The goal is to make the findings of our research available to African governments so that they can freely adopt the appropriate public policies to promote biofuel production.
We always speak of Brazil as an emerging country. But there are serious issues related to poverty in the Northeast, in Rio, in Sao Paulo and even in the Amazonian lands. Lula has done what he could, but there are still problems in a big city like Rio. Brazil is a country where there is a strong contrast between wealth and poverty. So is it really the model that we have described?
Despite steady growth over the past four decades, there are many challenges faced by the country, and they relate to many areas. However, the administrative powers in place in recent years have shown that our governments seek to increase the economic wealth of the country while ensuring an equitable distribution of wealth among the population. By becoming the sixth largest economy, Brazil has demonstrated its ability to reduce inequalities between rich and poor, without neglecting its social and environmental responsibilities. The results obtained allowed us to play an important role internationally and serve as a model for many countries which are still facing challenges that Brazil no longer copes with. In short, our road is still long, but this doesn’t stop us from working with all those who want to put to good us our best practices.
Interview coordinated by Joshua Massarenti (Afronline.org)
© Sud Quotidien (Senegal), Les Echos (Mali), A Semana (Cape Verde), L’Autre Quotidien (Benin), @Verdade (Mozambique) and Afronline.org (Italy)