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BRAZIL: Lending a Hand to Less Developed Countries

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 31 2011 (IPS) - Mothers’ milk banks that are helping reduce infant mortality in Guatemala and are starting to be set up in Africa as well form part of the numerous social technologies developed by Brazil that are driving the fast growth of its international development cooperation.

The total funds dedicated annually to international organisations, technical and humanitarian assistance, and scholarships for foreign students grew 129 percent between 2005 and 2009, from 158 million dollars to 362 million dollars, according to the first official report on Brazilian Cooperation for International Development.

That is still not much, a mere 0.02 percent of GDP, said Guilherme Schmitz, one of the authors of the study, carried out by Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

But South America’s giant is just now gaining stature as a donor country. And as a developing nation, it does not have a target to live up to, he told IPS — unlike industrialised countries, which have pledged to give 0.7 percent of GDP to official development aid.

Moreover, the cancellation of debt owed by poor countries was not taken into account in the estimate of Brazil’s total cooperation, he pointed out. If it was, he said, as it is in the accounts of other countries, the total amount of development cooperation would be significantly higher.

When it is factored in, humanitarian aid to Haiti, after the devastating earthquake that claimed as many as 300,000 lives a year ago, will also expand the 2010 total.

But the largest contributions go to international bodies, including United Nations agencies like the U.N. Refugee Agency, and at the regional level, various development banks and funds. This category accounts for 76 percent of Brazil’s development cooperation.

One of the biggest contributions goes to the Structural Convergence and Institutional Strengthening Fund (FOCEM) set up by the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) trade bloc. FOCEM receives more than 30 percent of the funds that the Brazilian government contributes to international bodies.

FOCEM was established in 2004 to bolster development in the bloc’s smaller partners, Paraguay and Uruguay, and in poorer areas in all of the member countries, to reduce asymmetries between the partners.

Brazil’s international humanitarian assistance increased 90-fold between 2005 and 2009 — from 488,000 dollars to 43.5 million dollars — but this country still accounts for only 5.5 percent of the global total, according to the study presented Jan. 12 by the government of Dilma Rousseff.

Lately Brazil has provided that aid directly to countries hit by catastrophes, with only a small part still channelled through multilateral bodies.

Brazil’s diplomacy prefers to avoid terms like “donation” or “aid,” to differentiate between the traditional development assistance provided by rich countries and the South-South cooperation among developing countries, which has lately gained momentum.

“The term donor implies a hierarchy, while our cooperation is different, horizontal, between partners, and based on a commitment to solidarity,” said Marco Farani, director of the Brazilian Agency for Cooperation (ABC) in the Foreign Ministry.

Besides, Brazil has “solutions that are adaptable to other developing countries,” without the difficulties that plague dialogue between rich countries and less developed nations, and “without the temptation to impose models,” Farani told IPS.

Brazil’s cooperation is managed by public officials who are not specifically remunerated for that activity, in contrast to the tendency in industrialised nations to hire consultants and non-governmental organisations to carry out such tasks, he pointed out.

And as a multicultural and multi-ethnic country, it is easier for Brazil to “engage in dialogue with everyone,” while it also has the advantage of not having a “colonialist or imperialist past,” which means other countries “do not feel oppressed” by the Brazilian presence, he said.

“On both MDG (Millennium Development Goal) achievement and advancing sustainable development generally, South-South exchange of knowledge and lessons learned is vital for success,” United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark told IPS.

The MDGs, agreed by the international community in 2000, include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; the promotion of gender equality; ensuring environmental sustainability; the reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; and a global partnership for development between the rich and the poor, by 2015, taking 1990 levels as a baseline.

“Brazil’s mounting contributions to global development represent the country’s commitment to helping to address the challenges facing the developing world,” she added, while reasserting the UNDP’s commitment to looking for new ways to support South-South co-operation.

“South-south co-operation today is not an alternative way of approaching the challenges of development,” Rathin Roy, director of the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG), told IPS. “It is the mainstream. This is because the contemporary development history of the 21st century is about developing countries that have made significant advances in growth and human development, and have forged their own way forward in this endeavour, rather than following the mantra of historic ‘best practice’.”

The Brasilia-based IPC-IG is a joint programme between the UNDP and the Brazilian government, set up to facilitate South-South learning related to development policy.

“South South co-operation is not a technocratic issue,” Roy said. “It is multilateral in conception,” and “is about not accepting the ‘rules of the game’ as given.”

It is “a partnership in which knowledge and experience, rather than resources and power, form the basis for co-operation,” he added.

Technical, scientific and technological cooperation grew in leaps and bounds during the two terms of left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), who saw cooperation as “an instrument of foreign policy and of national prestige and standing,” as well as “one of the country’s responsibilities,” Farani said.

Brazil, which has the broadest breast milk bank network in the world, has expanded this low-cost technology throughout Latin America. The banks obtain surplus milk from screened mothers who are willing to go to the effort of donating it to infants who are unable to breastfeed for one reason or another.

Guatemala is one of the countries in the region that now have networks of their own. Medical teams there were trained to process and control the quality of the donated milk. The technology, which has been proven effective in lowering infant mortality, is also being employed now in Angola, Cape Verde and Mozambique, former Portuguese colonies like Brazil.

Most of Brazil’s support for poor countries is in the areas of agriculture, health and professional and vocational training.

The idea is to share the knowledge the country has accumulated in tropical agriculture — especially in the government’s Brazilian Agricultural Research Organisation (EMBRAPA) — and in prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Africa and Latin America are the main areas of involvement, especially the rest of the members of Mercosur; Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas; and other Portuguese-language nations. Success has been seen, for example, in the increase in soy harvests in Cuba and in the higher yields and quality of cotton in four big producers of that crop in Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali.

The report on international cooperation, carried out by ABC and IPEA, seeks to systematise, for the first time, the cooperation activities of 65 public institutions. It is a “pioneer” effort among developing countries, Schmitz said.

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