The Afro-Brazilian Connection: How Brazil Can Transform African Agricultural Potential

Africa agriculture

The last decade witnessed the radically reshaping of Brazilian foreign policy by President Lula. He toured Africa several times to meet with heads of state, opening new embassies across the continent, all the time lauding the historic Afro-Brazilian ties which are so visibly apparent in Brazil’s multi-racial population. Amid the political initiatives and declarations of friendship, trade between Brazil and the continent soared, increasing 500% in decade, and Brazilian companies like Vale looked east across the Atlantic Ocean eyeing lucrative investment opportunities.

Another less heralded but potentially transformative aspect of this relationship has been the projection of Brazilian technical assistance across Africa. Brazil is world leader in agribusiness. Along with being a top producer of commodities such as soya, beef and coffee, it is an innovator, applying new ideas like this pest-control scheme which air dropped wasps on crops to kill insects. In comparison Africa lags behind the rest of the world in agricultural production and efficiency, while also having immense potential, as some observers calculate that it has the world’s largest acreage of uncultivated, but productive land. Brazilian expertise and African potential are a perfect match, and Brazil’s Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), (which has set up offices in Senegal, Ghana, Mali and Mozambique), aims to lend Brazilian expertise to the continent.

Brazilian expertise will perhaps be felt most strongly in Mozambique, a fellow Lusophone country with strong ties to Brazil. A huge swathe of the country has been earmarked for a special soil treatment pioneered in Brazil. The Cerrado (which means closed in Portuguese) was a vast savannah which had soils that were so depleted of nutrients it was impossible to grow any cash crops. That was until the introduction of a new technique of treating the soil with lime alongside a heavy phosphate fertilizer, which had the effect of eliminating the aluminium toxicity that plagued the soil while also introducing vital magnesium and calcium, allowing the territory to be opened up for vast soya plantations.

Enter ProSavanna which plans to take this soil enhancing technique and use it in Mozambique’s Nacala corridor with a plan to turn it into a regional breadbasket producing soya, maize and rice. If Brazilian expertise can be transferred successfully to the Nacala corridor, then food production will soar and the region will be able to supply Mozambique as well as joining international agri-supply chains and tapping into increasing demand across the Indian Ocean, such as India, the Gulf Region and South East Asia. The key to this scenario is the successful application of an innovative technique in a different country, not only does the soil enhancement have to be introduced correctly, but the logistics have to be improved considerably, updated rail and road systems have to be put into place (Mozambique is seeking Japanese help for this), and all in a different legal and political context, what worked beautifully in one country may not at all in another.

Another problem is the potential environmental cost, critics of the technique point out that the introduction of crops like soya lead to a loss of biological diversity, inflate the power of large agro-corporations, allowing them make a profit which benefit overseas markets at the expense of local producers, while Mozambican workers will only gain from low paid labouring jobs.

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