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Mozambique’s Agriculture and Brazil’s Cerrado ‘model’

Miracle or Mirage?

December 2012

Cabral, L., Shankland, A., Locke, A., and Duran, J. 2012. Mozambique's agriculture and Brazil's cerrado 'model': Miracle or mirage?. GREAT Insights, Volume 1, Issue 10. December 2012. Maastricht: ECDPM

When it comes to agriculture, Mozambique’s story is largely one of unfulfilled promises, uneven performance and untapped potential. Will Brazil, the latest arrival in Mozambique’s crowded agricultural cooperation field, be able to turn the story around?

We address this question by considering what is currently Brazil’s most ambitious agricultural cooperation initiative in Africa – ProSavana, a programme aiming to replicate Brazil’s renowned ‘cerrado transformation’. With such an ambitious agenda, it is no wonder that the programme has recently become a hot topic in development circles and is quickly grabbing the attention of the press, academia and civil society.

Snapshot of Mozambique’s disappointing agriculture story

Unfulfilled promises. Mozambican agriculture has not become the driver of poverty reduction, as the various poverty reduction strategies put forward by the Mozambican government over the last 12 years have recurrently announced. Food insecurity and malnutrition continue to affect the Mozambican population and rural poverty has, at best, been marginally reduced, although increasing in central regions (1).

Uneven performance. Mozambique’s crop output has remained stagnant over the last decade (2). Sorghum and cassava, the main crops produced by the predominant smallholder sector, continue to have poorly developed value chains. Productivity remains low across the board and most growth recorded by the sector is explained by farmed land expansions rather than efficiency gains. There are some positive stories – production and yields for sugar, cashew nuts, tobacco and horticultures have been rising steadily – although calling them successes might be premature.

Untapped potential. Mozambique is still largely agriculture-based economy but agriculture continues to fail to meet its enormous potential. Although the sector contributed 31.5% to the country’s GDP in 2009, only 20% of the total export value originated from agriculture. About 69% of the country’s population remain rural-based and largely dependent on agriculture for employment and livelihoods. Yet, in 2010, less that 14% of the 36 million hectares of arable land were farmed, mainly by smallholders, and of these only 2% were irrigated. Domestic markets remained severely underdeveloped, with food production surpluses in many rural districts failing to reach urban consumers.

Why? The physical constraints hindering the development of the sector have been widely noted (3). These include inadequate technology and extension services, poor infrastructure and lack of markets for inputs, services and outputs. Such constraints in turn reflect a combination of factors, which include the legacy of civil war, a succession of inappropriate policies, weak governance institutions, mismanagement of aid and lack of private capital. Recent research on the political economy of agricultural policy suggests that politics is the key explanation for the sector’s poor performance and for failure to address some of the persistent constrains in the sector, leading to policies which have generally “discriminated against the majority of agricultural producers, who continue to be poor, vulnerable and dependent from handouts from government, donors and NGOs” (4).

Enter ProSavana

ProSavana, Brazil’s latest flagship South-South cooperation project in agriculture, promises to address some of Mozambique’s persistent agricultural malaises. It aims to transform parts of the savannah spreading along the Nacala Corridor, in northern Mozambique, into highly productive agricultural land, while addressing food insecurity in a sustainable manner. The Nacala Corridor is currently receiving major investments in transport infrastructure, mainly from Brazilian mining giant Vale, which plans to use it to move the coal it is extracting in landlocked Tete Province to the deep-water port of Nacala.

ProSavana is inspired by Brazil’s Cerrado Development Programme (PRODECER), a programme that received Japanese support from the late 1970s till the 1990s and is claimed to be responsible for turning the cerrado, Brazil’s vast tropical savannah belt accounting for about 204 million hectares and 24% of the country’s territory (5), into a breadbasket and a world-leading soybean producing region. ProSavana is being implemented through a triangular cooperation arrangement between Brazil, Japan and Mozambique (6).

ProSavana has three main components: (i) improvement of research and extension capabilities for the agriculture development of the Nacala Corridor, focusing particularly on strengthening the institutional capacity of Mozambique’s Agrarian Research Institute (IIAM); (ii) implementation of pilot productive projects for small and commercial growers; (iii) design of an integrated agro-industrial master plan for the development of the Nacala corridor, looking not only at agricultural production and productivity, but also at broader regional development issues, such as infrastructure and markets. The programme envisages support for both commercial large-scale production systems and smallholder subsistence agriculture, through adaptive technology (improved varieties of soya, maize, rice and other crops, suitable for Mozambican soils) as well as conservation agriculture techniques (e.g. no-till techniques). Implementation started in 2011 and about US$13 million have been committed by Brazil, Japan and the Mozambican government, to support the first component for a period of about 5 years. Additional resources will be provided by Japan to Mozambique through a combination of grants and concessional loans to support developing complementary infrastructures across the Nacala Corridor. The overall timeframe for the programme is at least 20 years.

The ‘master plan’ component of ProSavana is likely to be used to identify opportunities for the deployment of Brazilian and Japanese capital in the region. The recently launched ‘Nacala Fund’ is expected to attract investment of US$2 billion into the Corridor, mainly for agribusiness projects. Its promoters, the consulting wing of Brazilian business school Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV), claim that it will benefit 10 million Mozambicans by supporting family farming as well as medium-sized and large agricultural projects (7). Based on Brazilian experience, they argue that small-scale producers can be successfully integrated into export-oriented agriculture value chains via contract farming and the promotion of cooperatives.

Early impressions from the field

ProSavana is packaged in a compelling narrative of success. In less than three decades Brazil turned itself into a major food exporter and the world’s largest producer of a variety of agricultural commodities, including soybeans from the cerrado. Technological innovation, and the work of Embrapa in particular, is argued to have played a key role in the ‘miracle of the cerrado’. Embrapa is today a world leader on tropical agricultural science and technology.

From the Mozambican government’s standpoint, expectations about ProSavana are high and there is much optimism about having Brazil as a development partner. Brazil’s agricultural transformation and Embrapa are looked up to as role models, with the hope that Mozambique will be able to replicate them. The promise of foreign direct investment to complement technical cooperation, through the Nacala Fund for example, is seen as a more tangible alternative to typical donor initiatives aiming to create an ‘enabling environment’ for private sector development.

But a number of questions have started being raised by farmers’ organisations and activists operating in the region targeted by ProSavana. The Mozambican National Farmers Union (UNAC), for instance, has condemned first of all the lack of transparency on the part of the governments of Mozambique, Brazil and Japan in the ProSavana process and the lack of involvement of civil society organizations and farmers in particular (8). It also has voiced concerns about land grabbing by large Brazilian agribusinesses, and the expected unequal distribution of benefits from the envisaged model of savannah transformation, seen as biased towards large-scale production of cash crops for exports. Concerns about food security, environmental sustainability and social inclusion of native communities are also raised, drawing on the perceived failures of the Brazilian model. 

What’s in Brazil for Mozambique and the challenge of transferability

The trajectory of Mozambique’s agriculture will continue to be shaped by a number of factors, not least domestic politics, but in looking at Brazil for inspiration it is important to bear in mind at least three issues.

1. Brazil’s contested cerrado model: The extent of Brazil’s agricultural success, and of the ‘miracle of the cerrado’ in particular, need to be fully understood. Despite its achievements, Brazil’s agricultural development story is filled with disputes over natural resource access and over environmental sustainability and social inclusion, suggesting that UNAC’s concerns are legitimate (9).

2. Brazilian agriculture is not just the cerrado!: Brazil’s agricultural development is not only about large-scale agribusinesses, the cerrado and soybeans. There are also stories about wide-ranging public policies supporting family farming, about promoting linkages between family farms and agribusinesses, about land reform, about the rights of landless workers, and, underlying all of these, there are stories about social movements claiming space in the policy debate and pushing for policies catering for their needs.

3. The drivers of agricultural change inside Brazil and implications for transferability: Irrespective of what particular Brazilian model or models inspire Mozambique’s farmers, policy-makers and investors, it is important that when attempting replication the issue of adaptation or transferability is not understood simply as a technical matter. It ought, first of all, to be about understanding all the factors and conditions that have driven a certain experience and have led to a certain outcome within Brazil. It should then also be also about questioning the extent to which the same formula can be applied outside of Brazil. The cerrado’s transformation into a highly productive agricultural zone is not only the result of innovative technology (which can no doubt be adapted to suit the Nacala Corridor’s soils and climate), but also of a myriad of factors related to human agency, institutional capability and the alignment of interests across politicians, investors, farmers and researchers (10).

Can the political, social, institutional and human drivers of the cerrado story be packaged along with the technological expertise of ProSavana? Probably not, as these drivers were quite specific to Brazil in a particular moment in time. Mozambique’s agricultural governance, institutions and politics are all quite different to the context that hosted the cerrado transformation. And in any case, the social and environmental record of such transformation remains a matter of dispute. Looking out from the Mozambican savannah, the miracle of the cerrado looks increasingly like a mirage.

Lídia Cabral is Doctoral Researcher at the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, Alex Shankland is Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, Anna Locke is Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute, London, and Jimena Duran is Visiting Researcher at the Institute of Social and Economic Studies, Maputo.

This paper draws on the work being developed by a team of researchers as part of the ERSC-funded research programme ‘China and Brazil in African Agriculture’, hosted by the Future Agricultures Consortium: http://www.future-agricultures.org/research/brics.

Footnotes
1. Azzarri, C. and V. Molini (undated) ‘Evidence from Three Household Survey Rounds: 1996-2009’.
2. FAOSTAT 2008. 
3. See MozSAKSS (2010) ‘Monitoring Agriculture Sector Performance, Growth and Poverty Trends in Mozambique’, Mozambique Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System.
4. do Rosário, D. (2012) ‘From negligence to populism: an analysis of Mozambique’s agricultural political economy’, Working Paper 34, Future Agricultures Consortium.
5. See http://www.cpac.embrapa.br/unidade/ocerrado/.
6. The partnership was initially established between Japan and Brazil at the L’Aquila G8 meeting in 2009. 
7. http://allafrica.com/stories/201207061132.html
8. See http://www.unac.org.mz/index.php/7-blog/39-pronunciamento-da-unac-sobre-o-programa-prosavana
9. See Mueller, C. C. (2003) ‘Expansion and modernization of agriculture in the Cerrado – the case of soybeans in Brazil’s Center-West’, Department of Economics Working Paper 306, Brasília: University of Brasilia; Sawyer, D. (2009) ‘Políticas Públicas e Impactos Socioambientais no Cerrado’ in Capacitação de Lideranças do Cerrado, eds. A. L. Galinkin and M. C. M. Pondaag. Brasília: TechnoPolitik.
10. Hosono, A. and Y. Hongo (2012) ‘Cerrado Agriculture: A Model of Sustainable and Inclusive Development’, Japan International Cooperation Agency Research Institute, Tokyo.

This article was published in Great Insights Volume 1, Issue 10 (December 2012)

 

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External authors

Lídia Cabral

Alex Shankland

Anna Locke

Jimena Duran