What can Africa learn from Brazil? After decades of stagnation, the Latin American country has succeeded, against great odds, to lift a very significant part of its population from poverty over the course of one generation. It has also vastly increased its economic base and, from being an insignificant global player two decades ago, is now a leading emerging market.
Over this period, neither its resource base nor the general composition of its population differed from the situation before the growth spike. So what made the difference? Quite clearly in Brazil’s case, governance has made all the difference. This has generated policies that have united the nation and provided the environment for both public and private sectors to thrive and industry to bloom. In addition, an imaginative export strategy, based on original research, has been yielding fruit quite spectacularly. Given the resource and demographic similarities between Africa and Brazil, can the continent benefit from Brazil’s approach? What can Africa take from the Brazilian experience?
Brazil is a clear example that developing countries can overcome racial, economic and political difficulties to become successful economies. Brazil can share its experience of dealing with the problems of mega cities at an earlier stage than the African continent, although it has yet to greatly improve the dire living conditions in the shantytowns, or favelas, of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and other large cities.
Brazil and Central Africa share the same environmental challenges. The Amazon and Congo rainforests are both under great threat but are vital in helping to balance global carbon emissions. At the same time, Brazil and the Congo Basin have huge hydro potential that has only partly been developed.
How to increase agricultural production: Brazil was one of the world’s biggest food importers as late as the 1960s but is now a major agricultural exporter, although the destruction of rainforest has attracted a great deal of criticism.
The South American country is one of the world’s biggest cultivators of soya beans, which have now become one of the world’s main high protein foods, yielding far more calories per hectare of land than meat or dairy farming. Some African farmers are now carrying out trials with soya beans to see if this success can be replicated on the continent. In addition, the introduction of new technology has greatly boosted the production of several crops in Brazil. A Brazilian agricultural-research institute, Embrapa, has already provided support to cotton producers in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali to increase yields in the same way.
How to develop biofuels: Brazil is one of the world’s biggest producers and consumers of biofuels. A combination of cheap sugar cane and advanced technology enables the country to produce a quarter of the world’s ethanol fuel output. This equation may be adapted in some parts of Africa but probably not in most countries because of the sheer amount of agricultural land that is required.
The use of food-producing land for fuel cultivation is certainly controversial but Brasilia has set up a $300m fund to provide loans for biofuel producers in Africa. In addition, Petrobras Biocombustível intends to set up an ethanol factory in Mozambique with initial production capacity of 20m litres a year. The company’s chairman Miguel Rosseto said: “We already produce sugar in Mozambique and will now start producing ethanol from molasses.” In 2011, the government of Mozambique passed a law requiring 10% biofuel or other alternative content in motor fuel.
How to manage a state oil company: despite its partial listing in 2010, Petrobras is still 64% owned by the government of Brazil and generates considerable revenue for the state. The government of Nigeria hopes to turn the failing Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) into an African version of Petrobras.
Strategies to tackle HIV/AIDS and tropical diseases: Brazilian companies already produce anti-retroviral drugs on a massive scale and a large plant is being built in the Mozambican town of Matola, with support from the Brazilian Ministry of Health, mining company Vale, Brazil’s Drug Technology Institute (Farmanguinhos) and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz). Brasilia is directly funding haemophilia and sickle cell anaemia projects in several African countries.
The educational process is not all one way. Brazil has set up its own version of South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission to uncover information about human rights abuses during the two decades of domestic military rule. Academics and government officials from both countries are studying the experiences of their counterparts in tackling the close correlation between wealth and ethnicity. White Brazilians are three times more likely to go to university than their black class mates, so Brazilian universities are now beginning to introduce racial entry quotas in order to correct the unfairness of the past.