27 October 2011

ABC, Easy as 123?

Yesterday Brazilian Minister Marco Farani, visited IDS, met with some of our staff and gave a seminar on Brazil's approach to development and its emerging approach to development cooperation. Minister Farani is the Director of the Brazilian Agency for Cooperation (ABC).

The talk, together with the Q and A, was very interesting. Mr Farani made several key points

* the terms "North" and "South" will soon become as anachronistic as the terms "East" and "West" became after the end of the Cold War

* Brazil's approach to development cooperation is, at the moment, project based, pragmatic and underpinned by solidarity, not ideology or commerce

* Brazil's lack of a "past" (e.g. colonial) means it comes to Africa with less baggage than most existing donors. It has opened up 17 new embassies in Africa under President Lula Da Silva and trade with Africa has quadrupled in the past 10 years. Moreover at least 50% of the population has an African heritage.

* Already Brazil is being asked to give advice about its tropical agriculture (its agricultural research system EMBRAPA is widely respected throughout the world) and on its approaches to social protection (ditto).

* The Minister thought Brazil's development cooperation programme would specialise in environment, agriculture and social protection, but not necessarily worrying about becoming a world leader in these areas--Mr Farani reminded us, after all, that Brazil is still a recipient of ODA from Germany and Japan.

* The need to manage expectations--Brazil's domestic success in development will not necessarily mean it has the answers for other countries

* Brazil will probably retain a slightly heterodox development cooperation path, going its own way, with no plans, at least in the short term, a DAC member.

The Minister was admirably positive and optimistic about the path ahead making it sound, if not exactly easy, then not very bumpy either.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out. What are the next steps beyond cooperation projects? How will leadership on environment manifest itself? How will popular opinion within Brazil constrain any potential new ODA programme? When will commercial pressures begin to crowd in on the development cooperation programme? In which areas will the approach be heterodox and in which way? Will there be new ways of approaching certain development issues that have not been tried elsewhere but nevertheless have strong potential?

There are many important questions and Minister Farani made it very clear that research and knowledge would be at the heart of any new development cooperation programme.

The IDS BRICS initiative will be working with the Government of Brazil and our research, NGO and business partners in Brazil as well as DFID on these and other questions, comparing perspectives, approaches and issues across the other BRICS countries, looking for commonalities and contrasts.

IDS Fellows Alex Shankland and Lizbeth Navas Aleman are the leads at IDS in case any of you are interested in finding out more.

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