The Brics summit in South Africa that began in Durban this week is the fifth time that the unlikely club of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have met to discuss international development — completing the first cycle of these meetings.
The agenda under the banner “Brics and Africa — Partnership for Development, Integration and Industrialisation”, includes the creation of a Brics Development Bank, the international monetary and financial system, opportunities for business and scientific collaboration, and south-south co-operation, particularly in Africa.
The questions of how Africa can feed itself, and how the agricultural sector can be a more effective engine for growth and development, have long been a target of international development efforts from Western donors, and regained momentum following the 2007/08 food price crisis.
But the emergence of the Brics as major players has raised hopes that innovative agricultural models and experiments from Brazil or China can be transferred or adapted to African countries. New development practices, as well as new partnerships, are on the scene.
It is tempting to talk of a revolution in international development: from north-south assistance to south-south co-operation.
True, the Brics make a diverse group: each has its own particular political journey, socio-economic profile, regional dynamics, and cultural identities.
Yet they seem united, albeit not yet fully coherently, in an insurgency against the international establishment.
With the gradual demise of the “Global North”, the Brics appear increasingly confident to challenge the market-led economic paradigm, and push forward forms of capitalism led by the state. By 2020 the Brics will, combined, account for nearly half of global GDP growth.
There is little doubt that they are well-placed to change the global, and local, dynamics of international development assistance.
Are we, then, on the verge of a global revolution? What will be the impact on poverty and hunger in Africa? Answering these questions requires looking in more detail at what the Brics are actually delivering on the ground.
One example of so-called south-south development co-operation is Brazil’s efforts to support agricultural development and food security in Africa.
Brazil, a world-leading trader of a range of agricultural commodities (including beef, poultry, ethanol and soybean), has become known as a model of agricultural development. This model is characterised by strong state support, high levels of mechanisation and strong vertical integration of industry and exports.
But the country, home to the “miracle of the Cerrado”, a region previously thought to be unproductive, is also home to a complex and often turbulent agricultural history.