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Social engagement in food and nutrition sovereignty and security: Brazilian cooperation in Africa

Sep 29, 2016 11:16 AM

Photo: Ubirajara Machado/MDS. Incentive programmes change the lives of smallholder farmers, Ceará, Brazil, 2015 .

by Renato S. Maluf and Veruska Prado Alexandre

This article aims to address the social engagements of Brazilian cooperation on food and nutrition sovereignty and security (FNSS) and the human right to food (HRF) in Africa. It opens with a historical analysis of Brazilian technical and humanitarian cooperation, making use of the concepts of FNSS and HRF as enshrined in the Organic Law of Food and Nutrition Security (LOSAN 2006) and followed by the National Plans for Food and Nutrition Security (PLANSAN).

In addition to drawing on specialised literature, the article also considers the outcomes of workshops with national actors, including members of the National Council for Food and Nutrition Security (Conselho Nacional de Segurança Alimentar e Nutricional—CONSEA), and the findings of four case studies in African countries by members of local civil society organisations.

Brazilian South–South cooperation in food and nutrition security

The position of Brazil as an international actor changed significantly between 2003 and 2014, in particular by the country presenting itself more as a donor than as a beneficiary of cooperation for development. This change occurred in the context of a new global geopolitical scenario arising from the emerging powers of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and their increasing involvement in South– South cooperation for development. This does not mean that initiatives among these actors were entirely comparable (Leite et al. 2013; 2014), although the pursuit of joint initiatives by members of the group was possible. Neither does it mean a consensus around concepts (Milani et al. 2013).

There are a multitude of initiatives that could be understood as both opportunities to create holistic views and coordinated actions, and the ‘exporting’ of contradictory development models. Nonetheless, Leite et al. (2014) point out the parallel between ‘exporting’ contradictory models and Brazil’s notoriety for internally combining democracy, economic development and social inclusion. Therefore, the uniqueness of the Brazilian South–South cooperation model is questionable. For Milani et al. (2013), its defining feature is the absence of an institutionalised regime. For Cabral and Shankland (2013), what emerges is cooperation shaped by agendas, experiences and even the imagination of the institutions and individuals involved.

Alongside domestic factors, trends and disputes in the international arena also help determine the pathways for South–South cooperation. Cabral (2013) states that in addition to the already mentioned role of BRICS, there has been a rapid growth of private philanthropy, which has in turn become a profitable industry in and of itself in terms of economic opportunities, as well as a strengthening of bilateral and ‘minilateral’5 initiatives resulting from the incapacity to modify multilateral governance to suit the individual needs of each country.

Depending on the prevalence of the aforementioned factors, these scenarios can achieve either greater collaboration among emerging powers and public mediation or the expansion of private investments that could lead to an amplification and resonance of the economic interests of the elite and to the re-conceptualisation of the term ‘cooperation’ itself (Cabral 2013). Public opinion in donor countries also plays an important role. Each of these scenarios has specific implications. Nonetheless, Brazil’s position as one of the vertices of triangular operations with Southern countries until recently should not be underestimated, nor should the trends of the country’s own agenda in the field of FNSS.

Disputes over cooperation approaches regarding how to best tackle poverty and hunger are particularly relevant, especially with the present focus on activities targeting the development of markets and the strengthening of the private sector, with an emphasis on small entrepreneurs (Cabral 2013). At least two manifestations are visible in the field of FNSS and HRF. First, the strengthening of productivist concepts of agriculture in Africa and the related environmental and cultural impacts of models such as the one led by commercial farmers and large agribusiness in Brazil, which are claimed to be the appropriate response for the need to expand the food production capacities of African countries. Second, the recent international notoriety afforded to nutrition has given way to initiatives mostly conducted by private organisations.

As for the question of including devices of participatory democracy in cooperation projects, this depends not only on a decision from the Brazilian cooperation side but also on its acceptance by recipient countries. Assuming that such limits are difficult to determine, evaluations of the international diffusion of the Food Acquisition Programme (Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos—PAA)6 and the National School Feeding Programme (Programa Nacional de Alimentação Escolar—PNAE)7 point out gaps in the relationship with civil society organisations (CSOs) of recipient countries. Promoting exchange initiatives among CSOs from both sides could be an important mechanism to overcome this gap.

Finally, it is mandatory to consider the dramatic changes that are under way in Brazil due to the deepening of the crisis since 2014, and the possibility of interrupting President Dilma Rousseff’s mandate from 2016 onwards. This will add a significant reorientation of public policies (for instance, redirecting foreign policies towards the North while reducing South– South cooperation) to the social impacts of the economic crises already noticeable. In any case, it is worth mentioning the limited commitment of the Rousseff government to the international development agenda and the interruption of strategies towards smaller countries (Cabral 2013). This could become worse if the country’s historical importance is relegated to a secondary position in the face of Northern countries.

Brazil’s relationship with Africa

Cooperation with African countries has figured prominently on the Brazilian agenda of cooperation in FNSS until recently. When examined from a longer-term perspective, the South–South cooperation policy promoted by the Lula administration initiated the ‘third wave’ of relations between Brazil and Africa (Castro 2014). This ‘third wave’ was characterised by an increase in resources and political efforts devoted to the cause, increasing technical cooperation, the importance of the role of the private sector supported by the Brazilian Development Bank (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social—BNDES) and diversification beyond the members of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). There has been an increase in the number of Brazilian embassies in African countries, together with the intensification of investment and trade.

All this strengthened the role of Brazil in multilateral spaces, without abandoning the relationship with Northern countries. In fact, a differential aspect of this relationship is the extension of the partnership with those countries acting to reform international institutions and negotiations in the World Trade Organization (Oloruntoba 2014). However, it should be noted that international cooperation lost ground at the end of President Rousseff’s administration and is facing the very real risk of being interrupted.

Analysing Brazilian cooperation implies considering not only interests involved in foreign or trade policies but also the co-existence of concepts and practices that are at times conflicting. There are initiatives derived from preferential public agendas, such as the Zero Hunger (Fome Zero) programme,8 or from private-sector interests, such as Brazilian agribusiness support to the Programme of Triangular Cooperation for Developing Agriculture in the Tropical Savannahs of Mozambique (ProSavana). There are also those related to guidelines of international organisations, such as local food purchases for school meals by the World Food Programme.

In addition, it should be noted that Brazilian South–South cooperation rarely involves experts or representatives of CSOs, lacks accountability mechanisms and is very receptive to private interests (Pinho 2013; Beghin 2014a). Nonetheless, Brazil’s contributions to strengthening democratic institutions in sub-Saharan Africa and the inclusion of their populations in ‘domestic consumer markets’ are recognised by most social actors engaged in cooperation initiatives.

Challenges to the social construction of the international agenda for FNSS

Four proposals for the social construction of an international agenda for FNSS and HRF emerged from debates between Brazilian CSOs and government representatives under CONSEA:

1. Agreement to a concept of South-South Cooperation in FNSS. A common agenda in international cooperation for development requires conformity to the concept of cooperation to substantiate the implementation of a flexible and empowered institutional structure, also encompassing mechanisms for social participation, transparency and accountability (Beghin 2014b). This effort should consider the trends and disputes in international agendas and the complexity of the actors and interests involved.

2. Construction of spaces for coordinating and managing demands for South–South cooperation The Brazilian CSO proposal of a national council for foreign policy, allowing for coordination with social participation, would help to deal with initiatives that promote different and even opposing models of development, notably in agriculture and rural areas. These initiatives reproduce national dilemmas and international disputes brought about by the entry of new actors onto the international cooperation stage. As for the government sectors dedicated to cooperation on FNSS, a connection with the Inter-Ministerial Chamber for FNS in recommended.

3. Give transparency to Brazilian South–South cooperation in FNSS Brazilian South–South cooperation does not have any formal mechanism for social participation in any of the design, implementation, monitoring or evaluation stages, as would be possible under the proposed national foreign policy council (Ibid.). Efforts such as the joint action between CONSEA and the National Council for Sustainable Rural Development are also worth mentioning. Beghin (2014b) noted that issues related to official South–South cooperation are not fully understood by representatives of CSOs and social movements, whose agendas are used to equating South–South cooperation with the internationalisation of the Zero Hunger programme and the idea of ‘exporting contradictions’. She suggests expanding the debate on South– South cooperation with CSOs and promoting studies on the subjects of transparency and participation in recipient countries.

4. Promote social participation in public policies The establishment of a cooperation policy that promotes participation in recipient countries leads to the recognition of participatory democracy with a joint construction between government and society. If this is not considered, cooperation activities misrepresent the Brazilian experience, which is presented in an incomplete format. To overcome this situation, it would be a significant advantage to establish a direct channel for exchange with CSOs in these countries, in addition to the adoption of social participation as a basic principle of Brazilian cooperation in FNSS.

Social participation can certainly adopt various strategies in formal and informal spaces. Furthermore, there are distinct understandings of the concept of civil society and differing degrees of openness of national governments to this participation. This implies taking the Brazilian experience, not as a model to be transplanted directly, but as a frame of reference for building and strengthening capacities according to the realities and contexts of recipient countries.