Brazil and Africa explore common interests

Lessons learned in Brazil could be applied to Africa’s tropical belt to make the continent more food secure.


João Bosco Monte, the president of the Brazil Africa Institute and organiser of the annual Brazil Africa Forum, underlined the mission of the Brazil Africa Institute in fostering dialogue to serve as a catalyst for those engaged in the cooperation between African states and Brazil.

It is a relationship that in many ways is as deep as time. The way that the western coast of Africa and the eastern coast of South America look like two fitting pieces from a jigsaw puzzle is no coincidence. It is evidence that the two continents were once joined, before starting to drift apart some 150m years ago. Other linkages between Brazil and Africa are more recent and more painful. Hundreds of thousands African slaves were transported from Africa, mainly from Congo and Angola, to work in the sugar-cane fields of northeast Brazil.

In 1829 and 1830, nearly 60,000 slaves were taken to Brazil. Their descendants are still a significant part of Brazil’s population and culture. Agriculture remains a key sector within Brazil’s economy, and one of the first keynote speakers was Gilbert F Houngbo, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Houngbo kept to this year’s forum theme, “Trends in Innovation and Technology for Sustainable Development,” asserting, “agriculture must be aligned to new technological transformations, and demands the dissemination of new know-how to more people… the future holds great opportunities for those working in the fields of agriculture and agribusiness.” Agricultural sector innovation was further discussed at the forum by Jennifer Blanke, the vice-president of agriculture and human and social development at the African Development Bank.

She said that agricultural technologies have helped dispel a long-held misconception that tropical regions cannot be as productive as the temperate regions of the world. Indeed, new crop varieties adapted to the tropics, combined with good soil science, turned tropical Brazil into one of the major breadbaskets of the world in a few decades. That lesson could well be applied to Africa’s tropical belt, including the savannahs and the Sahel, to make the continent more food secure.

Sharing technical advances

It was in the area of healthcare that two fascinating technological initiatives were discussed. Abimbola Adegboye, the technical director of Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control outlined the agency’s agenda, touching on the work that had gone into bearing down on counterfeit medicines in his country.

What has been developed is a mobile phone app for the customer to use in a pharmacy that can scan a medicine’s unique barcode, uploading the data to a central register that can determine its authenticity and expiry date within seconds. As counterfeit medicines are a scourge that also needs to be addressed in Brazil, this African technological initiative can be of value to the country.

Cybele Maria Philopimin Leontsinis, coordinator of the burns unit at the Instituto Dr José Frota in Fortaleza, Brazil, described the extraordinary work of her institution, which uses tilapia fish skin to treat serious burns. This treatment, using a fish farmed and consumed across Africa, offers an alternative to the need for burns victims to undergo skin grafts.

Nísia Trindade Lima, the president of Fiocruz, a world leader in research and development in the biological sciences headquartered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, told the forum about efforts in the field of diagnostics, citing technologies that can identify the presence of the HIV, HPV, and hepatitis viruses at blood centres. She also spoke with pride about human breast-milk banks, a Brazilian innovation that has been taken up in several Lusophone African countries.

The forum attracted the participation of Gilberto Kassab, Brazil’s minister of science, technology, innovation and communications. He used the occasion to announce that Brazil would participate in the Azores International Research Centre multi-national scientific research programme focusing on the Atlantic Ocean.

“This group is going to make a great contribution to strengthening Brazilian relations with Africa,” the Brazilian minister pledged, pointing out how technology had done so much to make countries better connected, improving the quality of the people’s lives.

Innovation is essential

Kassab concluded by stressing the importance of innovation. “Nowadays, a country, wherever it may be, must place innovation as its key planning pillar,” he said. “Initiatives like the Brazil Africa Forum must focus on innovation as their pivotal concern, for the purpose of generating know-how and exchanges, as countries cannot go forward without cooperation.”

Innovation was also the focus of an important education panel that drew together both the private and public sectors, namely Miguel Stief, the CEO of Positivo BGH; Frank Aswani, the vice-president of the African Leadership Academy; and Sarah Anyang Agbor, the African Union’s commissioner of human resources, science and technology.

The session was moderated by Mauro Oliveira, a researcher at Brazil’s Federal Institute of Education, who steered the conversation towards the forum’s theme of technology and innovation due to their critical role in developing human capital.

Other sessions covered finance, with speakers from Standard Bank and Afrexim Bank. The concluding session dealt with innovation and infrastructure and heard from Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank, which has been instrumental in promoting investment beyond Brazil’s borders by supporting Brazilian businesses that are expanding overseas, including those active in Africa.

Training for African youth 

Speaking to African Business after the forum had concluded, João Bosco Monte took the opportunity to talk about a very special initiative of the Brazil Africa Institute, the Youth Technical Training Programme (YTTP).

“The YTTP brings young Africans from across the continent to train in Brazil in areas where Brazil has demonstrated it leads; in agriculture, education, IT, health, social media, etc,” Monte explained.

“When they go back home, they will be taking skills. I am not talking about rocket science! For instance, our first programme was concerned with cultivating cassava. As you probably know, Nigeria is the world’s biggest cassava producer but it exports this crop without any value addition.

“If you go to the countryside in Brazil, you see farmers adding value, for example adding pineapple juice to tapioca, to make it more attractive and tasty for the consumer. It is one example of simple value addition.”

Monte was delighted with the way that the forum had not only attracted a high calibre of speakers, but the quality of the dialogue: “Brazil needs to know more about the African continent. The African continent needs to become better known. I am very pleased that after a year of hard work that we have managed to reunite friends, some from some time ago, and new friends who we are privileged to have here with us.”

The 2018 edition of the Brazil Africa Forum is due to take place in November in Salvador, Bahia State.

Stephen Williams

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