The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) shut down its activities in December 2020 at the end of its mandate. The administrative closure of the Centre was completed in November 2021.

Emerging nations play the agricultural card



South-South cooperation has a long history, but recent economic growth in some of these countries since the dawn of the new Millennium, in addition to changes in the cooperation framework, has given it a new dimension.

The Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955 led to the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement to promote cooperation between developing countries. It was formalised with the adoption of the 1978 Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries. South-South cooperation therefore has a long history, but recent economic growth in some of these countries since the dawn of the new Millennium, in addition to changes in the cooperation framework, has given it a new dimension. “The policy challenges facing Brazil, China, India and Russia, not forgetting South Africa, are to reshuffle the cards and take the lead diplomatically, economically and financially on the international scene. It’s very clear that these donors are not altruistic, they’re defending their own interests,” says Jean-Jacques Gabas, economist and researcher at the French research centre, CIRAD. These new stakeholders - in addition to striving to claim a place in global governance - share common values, such as non-interference in the domestic affairs of countries benefiting from their assistance. Developing countries consider themselves to all be equal and they generally make little distinction between factors pertaining to their cooperation policies, trade and investment.

In the agricultural sector, Brazilian, Chinese and Indian interventions in Africa clearly highlight a willingness to share experience, especially on enhancing food security, which these countries have had some success in improving. These initiatives have been gratefully received by African countries at a time when aid from industrialised countries is drying up. Funding for agriculture in Africa has been following a bell curve pattern: from a steady US$5 billion in 1975, aid rose to US$8 billion in the 1980s, to drop to US$5 billion in 2006-2007, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC). There was a slight upward trend in 2008, but this was marginal in the light of the higher increases forecasted by OECD member countries.

A new orientation for Chinese aid

Agriculture has long relied on technical assistance, and as such has been a prime target of Chinese aid policies - Beijing is also a leading contributor to the Special Programme for Food Security launched by FAO in 1996 - but there has been a noteworthy shift in this orientation since 2006. Chinese aid has been geared more towards investment and trade since the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2006. A decision was made during FOCAC to set up around 20 demonstration centres throughout Africa to spearhead Chinese cooperation.

These centres are focused on technology transfer through training and extension, particularly in rice and vegetable production sectors, while implementing a relatively technocratic approach. The arrangement is that China provides full funding for these centres and pays participating experts and technicians for the first 3 years. The administration and management is then entrusted to a non-subsidised Chinese company. The centre thus becomes autonomous and operates under a purely economic rationale where everything is sold, including products and services.

“How viable is this Chinese so-called ‘public-private partnership’ model?” asks Gabas. It is still too early to say. Assessments are under way and problems have already been highlighted, such as the lack of links with local research. Contrary to common opinion, Chinese public and private companies have not been acquiring much land in Africa, i.e. only around 300,000 ha according to Land Matrix, an online interface that offers access to data and analytical tools concerning land deals. Most Chinese acquisitions are focused in a few countries like Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali or Mozambique. These include sugar production projects such as SUCOBE, run by the Complant company in Benin and Madagascar, and N’Sukula in Mali. Most agricultural projects promote the production of food crops for local and regional markets.

Brazil – know-how and expertise

After Lula da Silva took office as President of Brazil in 2003, there was a marked rekindling of political, commercial, investment and cooperation relations with Africa. Brazil’s linchpin in agricultural cooperation is Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (Embrapa), a state body consisting of 47 research centres scattered throughout the country and several overseas offices, including one in Ghana that was set up in 2006. Brazil is offering over 40 years of expertise in tropical agriculture to benefit African countries, which is especially relevant given the close geological and agro-climatic similarities between Brazil and Africa. Brazil aims to share its agricultural development model which is based on two pillars - agribusiness and family farming - and its cooperation with Mozambique is revealing. Since 2012, Brazil and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have been supporting the Mozambique Food and Nutrition Security Programme to develop fruit and vegetable production and distribution. The Mozambique Institute of Agricultural Research received more than 90 vegetable varieties from Brazil that are being tested in the Umbeluzi agricultural research station for subsequent distribution to farmers. Meanwhile, the Triangular Co-operation Programme for Agricultural Development of the Tropical Savannah in Mozambique, conducted jointly with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, aims to develop agriculture in the Nacala Corridor under a purely agribusiness strategy. Besides Mozambique, Brazil has developed ‘structured’ projects in the rice-production sector in Senegal, and in the cotton-production sector in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali. These large-scale projects often have a regional impact, but there are not many since Brazil is generally only involved though support missions.

Brazil is also very active in training and research in partnership with local institutions under various arrangements: scholarships, expertise missions, training at Embrapa or at the Universidade da Integração Internacional da Lusofonia Afro-Brasileira, and joint research with the Brazil-Africa Agricultural Innovation Marketplace supported by several donors including the World Bank, UK Department of International Development, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Joint research programmes have thus been launched, for example, between Pipal Ltd (Kenya) and Embrapa on adapting sorghum varieties for ethanol production, and between Mekelle University (Ethiopia) and Embrapa to enhance honey production for food security.

The number of projects is increasing, but it is hard to measure their impacts in the field. Brazil was until very recently an aid recipient and the Brazilian Cooperation Agency has just started allotting aid funds, which is why few development-oriented projects have been undertaken to date. Note also that Brazil, like India, serve their relatively long-term interests by focusing on creating markets for their capital goods. Within the framework of the Mais Alimentos programme (see box Brazilian models applicable in Africa), credit lines are subject to the purchase of Brazilian machinery.

Drawing on its Green Revolution experience, India is keen to promote agricultural development in Africa through technology transfer and research. India, with the support of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, has introduced innovative platforms and agribusiness incubators in agriculture-specialised universities in five African countries, i.e. Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Uganda and Zambia.

One feature regarding Indian cooperation is that private companies were the forerunners to the Indian government’s involvement. Some Indian companies such as the Kirloskar Group, a leading global pump manufacturer, have long been active on the African continent. This pattern changed in 2008 when the first India-Africa Summit took place. Unlike other emerging countries, India has targeted eight priority countries and formed the Technico-Economic Approach for Africa-India Movement which, besides India, includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Senegal.

In February 2013, Sharad Pawar, the Indian Minister of Agriculture, declared at the first Asia-Africa Agribusiness Forum, “As land in Asia is under pressure from population growth and urbanisation, there is an opportunity for responsible investment by Asian countries in Africa to promote agriculture.” Many Indian companies, such as the Karuturi Group which is active in Ethiopia and Kenya, have already invested in the agricultural sector for the production of sugar, palm oil, sugar, and flowers, part of which is targeted for export.

From bi-lateral to tripartite?

Could South-South cooperation be a way to overcome the known limits of North-South cooperation? “We shouldn’t consider this strictly in black-and-white terms. Very little is really being done by China and Brazil in the agricultural sector,” says Gabas. But this is just the beginning of the process. The future would seem to be in favour of tripartite cooperation involving one industrialised donor country or international organisation, an emerging country and a beneficiary country or regional entity. “We need converging views,” says Gabas, while also establishing a dialogue with these new cooperation players and DAC member countries. Emerging countries seem ready.

Tripartite projects are now under way. Some OECD countries, such as Germany, the UK and the US, are already involved with the support of multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and private foundations.