BRICS in action: Bringing Brazilian agriculture to Africa

The BRICS summit in Johannesburg this week is putting Brazil-Africa business co-operation back to the agenda after several years of neglect.

During his first two terms in office from 2003 to 2010, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited dozens of African countries for bilateral meetings.

But his right-wing opponent Jair Bolsonaro, who served from 2019 to 2022, did not visit the continent once. With Lula’s return to office, there are renewed hopes that he will again boost diplomatic and trade links with Africa.

One Brazilian company that hopes to take advantage of the renewed ties is BrazAfric, headed by Marcos Brandalise, which operates from offices in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and is considering boosting its presence in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The firm supplies machinery for wet coffee processing, dry coffee milling as well as coffee roasters and grinders. Today, the company has around 20 exclusive agencies with different Brazilian companies to supply coffee processing equipment from Brazil to African customers.

But the firm’s ambitions go beyond well beyond beans. The firm also works with suppliers and partners to deliver agriprojects from feasibility studies to design, delivery, assembly, training and management.

By applying the lessons learned from many decades of food production in Brazil, Brandalise says the firm can help Africa to develop a truly vibrant and profitable agronomy sector.  

“There is a huge gap between consumption and production. Africa imports a lot of its food despite all this potential to produce,” says Brandalise.

“I think we are at the right moment with the right solutions. We have the momentum to develop farms, to produce food… We are always bringing new things to the market. And people appreciate that today we are reference point in eastern and central Africa for solutions coming from Brazil.”

Brandalise has come a long way since his first tentative steps into Africa. Having graduated from University of Caxias do Sul in Brazil with a degree in business administration, he joined Transafrik, an aviation cargo company based in Angola. He was subsequently posted to Nairobi, where the company was contracted to the United Nations’ operations in neighboring Somalia. When his contract ended in 1996, he formed BrazAfric.

“I decided to establish myself here. So then I started linking my past in Brazil, with Africa,” he says.

Reshaping African agriculture

Brandalise says his experience of both markets is helping the firm to move beyond mere machinery supply to reshaping the future of agriculture on the continent.

The firm has established several major projects to ramp up its influence. The Co-operative Societies Development Program aims to organise smallholder famers – who account for about 70% of the sector – into cooperatives so that they can access better technologies, training, and trading opportunities, and consequently better incomes and quality of life. Those cooperatives can then access and distribute the machinery that BrazAfric supplies.

The second is even more ambitious. The Integrated African Model Farm, conceived as a response to the international food crisis emanating from the war in Ukraine and the after-effects of Covid-19, aims to link commercial “nucleus” farms to a network of smallholders, resulting in economic benefits through fair prices, lower costs and the repositioning of the middleman role.

The tie-up, which offers a demonsitration of Brazilian firms working together in African agriculture, is part of a joint enterprise between BrazAfric, Brazil’s Campo Group and a third partner, L.E.A.F. Africa.

Campo has operations in Mozambique, Angola, Ghana, Zambia and Uganda while L.E.A.F. Africa, chaired by Brandalise, offers support services for all phases of agribusiness development based around  a seven-step process for implementing, managing and delivering viable agricultural, forestry and livestock systems. Africa’s complex markets mean that such collaboration is essential to meet local needs, says Bradalise.

“I mean, Africa is a very complex market as compared with Brazil, and that’s why we became associated with Campo Group,” says Brandalise.  

“They bring the Brazilian knowledge to Africa which combined with our African experience to mitigate challenges. A lot of investors burn their fingers in Africa, because they consider what they know, but they don’t consider what they don’t know, which is the local environment and local culture. Together with us, Campo brings this type of contribution to our projects in agriculture.”

“We are solution providers, we talk to the landowners and to the financiers, and then we and our consortium of companies offer the whole solution from a bankable business plan to the implementation, supplies and management for a number of years.”

Boosting business and bilateralism

Both BrazAfric and Campo are enthusiastic participants and contributors to the annual Brazil Africa Forum (this year in its 11th iteration).

Led by its director Professor João Bosco Monte, the Brazil Africa Forum draws together professionals, business leaders, academics and government leaders to examine ways of deepening ties between the continent and Brazil.

Those ties could be further expanded as the BRICS meet this week in Johannesburg, and in subsequent meetings between President Lula and his counterparts on the continent.

The possibilities of such cooperation were summed up by Celso Amorim, Lula’s minister of foreign affairs between 2003 and 2010, who oversaw the revival in ties with the continent.

“Brazil is part of Africa,” Amorim told a previous Brazil-Africa Forum.  

“Although it might have been said that ‘for every African problem there is a Brazilian solution,’ Africa is developing so fast that the reverse may soon be true. For every Brazilian problem, there is an African solution.”