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Brazil, Emerging South-South Donor

RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar 1 2012 (IPS) - The Brazilian government is stepping up South-South aid, to strengthen the South American giant’s status as a donor country and its international clout. It now provides assistance to 65 countries, and its financial aid has grown threefold in the last seven years.

Itamaraty Palace (Brazil’s foreign ministry), homebase for the country’s South-South development aid strategy.

A project to extend financing for food purchases to five countries in Africa has helped confirm that Brazil, traditionally a recipient of aid, has taken its place among the group of foreign donor countries.

The United Nations announced in late February that Brazil would provide 2.37 million dollars for a local food purchasing programme, to benefit small farmers and vulnerable populations in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Senegal.

The project, carried out by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), will thus draw on the expertise accumulated by Brazil in its own food purchasing programme, known by its Portuguese acronym, PAA.

The PAA buys agricultural products from small farmers and distributes them to vulnerable groups, including children and adolescents through school feeding programmes. Besides fighting hunger, it is aimed at strengthening local food production.

The PAA is a cornerstone of the country’s Zero Hunger strategy, launched by the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and continued by his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, both of whom are moderate leftists who belong to the Workers’ Party.

The programme, in conjunction with other anti-poverty policies, has helped reduce malnutrition by 25 percent and pulled 24 million people out of extreme poverty, according to Lula administration statistics.

“This is a way to help other governments develop policies of support for family farmers, who in this country are responsible for the production of 60 percent of the food consumed,” Marco Farani, director of the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC), told IPS.

The PAA “works very well, and keeps farmers in the countryside, caring for their small plots of land and making them their source of subsistence and livelihood,” said Farani, whose agency operates under the foreign ministry.

The project is based on cooperation between FAO and the WFP in the production and supply of seeds and fertiliser, and the organisation of the purchase and distribution of food, among other aspects.

Since January, FAO has been headed by José Graziano da Silva, from Brazil.

In an interview with IPS in December, Graziano said he would bring to the U.N. organisation his experience as one of the architects of the Zero Hunger programme, in areas like the strengthening of local markets to produce higher quality food, reduce food waste, and lower costs.

Now, in association with organisations like the United Nations or in bilateral aid, Brazil wants to extend throughout the developing South its own successful initiatives like the PAA.

This new cooperation and development aid strategy has been taking shape since 2005, when Brazil, now the world’s sixth largest economy, earmarked 158 million dollars for foreign aid. That amount rose to nearly 363 million dollars in 2009 and to an estimated 400 million dollars in 2010, according to preliminary figures from the ABC.

Meanwhile, Brazil plans to dedicate 125 million dollars to technical cooperation over the next three years, more than double what this country will itself receive in international aid in that period.

“Today we are active in more than 65 countries, while three or four years ago we were only active in the Portuguese-language countries of Africa. We currently have cooperation projects in 38 African nations, and in Latin America,” Farani said.

The countries of Latin America receive 45 percent of Brazil’s foreign aid. The rest is distributed among other areas of the developing South, mainly through bilateral channels, but also through the U.N., as in the case of the new local food purchasing fund for the five African countries.

Brazil is now one of the WFP’s 10 largest donor countries.

The difference, Farani said, is that “in our South-South cooperation, we do not impose closed models or solutions. We recognise the experience of the other countries, while sharing our own expertise.”

Brazil has thus established a kind of manual of principles to guide international aid.

“In first place, we are a developing country, which is why our attitude towards the challenge of development is one of humility, because development is still a challenge for Brazil,” Farani said.

“Besides, we have similar realities and challenges” as developing countries, and “we approach things from the idea that it is possible to overcome those challenges, while the attitude of a country from the industrialised North is ‘we are going to help to keep things from getting even worse’,” he said.

Mauricio Santoro, an analyst at the independent Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, mentioned political reasons as well for Brazil’s strategy of becoming a donor country.

Brazil hopes to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and wants greater decision-making power in multilateral bodies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.

“The political objective is to increase Brazil’s influence in other developing countries, particularly in Latin America and Africa. It’s part of the consolidation of Brazil’s international leadership vis-à-vis nations of the so-called global South,” he said.

But Santoro said there is a difference with respect to traditional donors that use aid as an instrument to establish a presence in new markets.

Brazilian companies, like the state-run oil company Petrobras and private construction and mining firms, are increasingly operating throughout Latin America and in other regions as well.

“The focus is more on politics than on the economy,” he told IPS. “Cooperation is not necessarily stronger with large commercial partners.”

“But it works as a kind of buffer for tension in countries like Bolivia, Paraguay or Mozambique, where there is a heavy presence of Brazilian companies,” he said.

Another difference, Santoro said, is that Brazil’s foreign aid does not come with strings attached, and generally promotes projects that put a priority on developing human resources, by means of training of public employees, for example.

It is the age-old concept of “teaching people to fish rather than giving them fish,” he summed up. (END)

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