India and Brazil: An African Collaboration

By Estefanía Marchán

China has invested heavily in Africa, but what are India and Brazil doing there?

Plenty of buzz surrounds BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) investment in Africa. Rightly so: they are spurring the region’s integration into the global economy as never before. Much has been heard about China’s infrastructure building in Africa and its competitive edge in the race for natural resources. But what are the two democracies of the group contributing to the African continent?

Unable to compete with China’s hefty contributions, India and
 Brazil see agriculture – on
 which two-thirds of Africa
 depends for its livelihood 
– as their comparative ad-
vantage. Both countries 
have had their own agricultural revolutions 
and are among the world’s 
top food producers. After 
South America, Africa possesses the largest share of
 uncultivated cropland in
 the world – a land ready
 for transformation. Here,
 India and Brazil are providing important input
 in the form of affordable 
services and badly-needed
 technical expertise. Together, their venture into 
Africa’s agriculture sector can reignite a primary engine for growth and prove vital to the region’s food security.

Individually, India and Brazil have leveraged their strengths in affordable low-tech and scientific research to boost Africa’s agricultural productivity. India provides what it calls Triple A – adaptable, appropriate and affordable – technologies and Brazil has launched research and food security initiatives throughout Africa. The Indian government’s increasing lines of credit – up to $5bn now – are driving investment, such as a $15mn loan to develop commercial agriculture in Sierra Leone. Through Embrapa, its pioneering research institute, Brazil shares with several African countries the skills that transformed its own dry savannah into one of South America’s most fertile regions.

Combined, it seems to be just what Africa needs. In Senegal, says Renu Modi, professor of Africa Studies at the University of Mumbai, low-cost irrigation pumps provided by the Indian firm Kirloskar Brothers have boosted rice production and allowed the largely agricultural nation to meet twice as much of its domestic demand. Simultaneously, Embrapa has partnered with Senegal, investing in technical training and experimenting with rice varieties.

This kind of interlocking investment by India and Brazil could be the new investment model for Africa.

The investments could not have come at a better time. Agricultural productivity in Africa has been declining just as traditional sources of aid have shrunk. According to Robert Paarlber, professor at Harvard Kennedy School, the share of World Bank loans that went to agricultural development in Africa fell from 30% to 8% between 1978-2006, and US agricultural assistance shifted away from capacity-building to food aid. By 2006, the US was spending twice as much providing free food to the region as it was on helping Africans feed themselves. Such aid has done little to encourage Africa’s development or to mitigate widespread malnutrition. The Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 30% of Africans remain malnourished. The global economic slowdown will surely impact food aid.

India and Brazil can fill the investment void. To maximize the impact, what is needed is a formalized India-Brazil Partnership for Africa’s food security. Memorandums of Understanding can be explored jointly with the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme, the African-led programme for improving food security and agriculture, or regional bodies like the Southern African Development Community, for cooperation appropriate to specific economic or agricultural climates. This will enhance India-Brazil relations without hindering their individual efforts in Africa. While Brazil’s topography and climate more closely resemble Africa’s, India’s agricultural ecosystem has many lessons to offer. The average Indian farm is smaller than its Brazilian counterpart (1.3ha versus 68ha), and the sector employs more people in India than it does in Brazil. India’s expertise in small farm mechanization and its experience of empowering women through microfinance and cooperative enterprises is highly relevant to Africa as it helps develops industry. African institutions will benefit from hosting Indian and Brazilian scientists as well as private and social sector leaders to share their know-how.

Institutional and people-to-people interactions also present an opportunity for India and Brazil to build mutual confidence at a time when their bilateral and global interactions are increasing. International organizations, USAID and others already collaborate in Brazilian-led agricultural projects throughout Africa. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research or the forthcoming Indian Agency for Partnership in Development can step in.

If the partnership works, then India and Brazil can extend knowledge sharing on agriculture and food-security programmes to other developing countries. The India-Brazil-South Africa trilateral forum, IBSA, can serve as a springboard for greater cooperation.

India and Brazil’s increasing engagement in Africa is a clear sign that both countries are embracing their new roles as global diplomats. For now, collaboration in Africa’s agriculture is not a priority for either country, but should be seriously considered. Policymakers and academics have historically called this type of collaboration, ‘South-South cooperation,’ a term meant to distinguish the mutually beneficial interactions that developing nations can have with one another versus the often unfavorable relationships they have with Western powers. 'South-South cooperation' has long been a popular catchphrase within the Indian and Brazilian diplomatic lexicon, but it is only now, with the emergence of these countries as economic powers, that the expression is beginning to carry any real promise. By joining forces to bolster Africa’s food security, India and Brazil have the chance to break ground on a tangible South-South agenda that could have a far-reaching impact on a matter of urgent global concern.

Estefanía Marchán is the head of Latin America Studies at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, Mumbai.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

*[This report was originally published by Gateway House.]

 

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