Dienstag, 6. November 2012

Brazil’s Environmental Expedition to Africa: A Green Paradox

By Sara de Melo Rocha

Image by http://www.strata-africa.com
Passport: check! Visa valid for 90 days: check! Invitation to the People’s Summit in Rio+20: check! Mozambican environmental activist and journalist Jeremias Vunjanhe had all of this as he travelled from Maputo to Johannesburg and, finally, to São Paulo, Brazil.  From São Paulo, Vunjanhe expected to take another flight to Rio de Janeiro, to participate in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). Instead, he was intercepted by the Brazilian Federal Police and sent back to Mozambique “without explanation”.

Last June, Brazil hosted Rio+20. Rio de Janeiro received over 100 heads of state and government representatives, changing the routine of the city. Twenty years ago, the same city held the same event, the Rio Summit. Since then, the most significant difference was in the way Brazil faced environmental challenges. 

“In ‘92, Brazil was regarded as not respecting environmental laws, unable to protect its forest, only making its first steps in environmental issues”. Flávio Miragaia Perri was the coordinator of Rio 92, later becoming Minister of the Environment.  “The conference was the turning point for Brazil in terms of environmental attention”, he explains. Today, by contrast, Brazil has a say about environmental issues. This became clearer during COP15 – the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference -, where Brazilian President Lula da Silva gave a speech criticizing industrialised countries’ attitude towards climate change, adding that “Brazil [had] not come [there] to bargain. (…). We spent one century without growing, while others grew a lot. Now that we started to grow, it is not fair to make sacrifices again”.  


Jeremias Vunjanhe was going to Rio to discuss the effect the presence of Vale - a Brazilian mining company - is having on Mozambique. “The organization I work in – Justiça Ambiental – published important information about a protest by 350 families that were displaced so Vale could continue mining the area. We have pictures of police repression during a demonstration in January. I know that did not please Vale and some important sectors of the Mozambican government. If this is in any way related to my deportation from Brazil, I cannot say.”

Jeremias Vunjanhe, 
Mozambican environmental activist 
(personal archive)
Vale - investing around $1.6 billion and producing 11 million tons of coal each year - is just one example of Brazil’s presence in Africa. In 2008, the Brazilian Agency for Cooperation (ABC) approved the implementation of 236 projects in South-South cooperation. The same agency spends 55% of its resources in African countries. In environmental matters, Brazil cooperates with 12 countries on 29 projects. However, Brazil’s outreach to Africa is recent: it started with the election of Lula da Silva as president of Brazil in 2003.

Priority Mission: Africa

To explain Brazil’s interest in Africa, Miguel Silva - a researcher in the Centre of African Studies in Porto University - goes back to the time of colonization, when millions of Africans slaves were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese to work in coffee plantations. “Brazil is starting to somewhat compensate their descendants - or Afro-Brazilians. Universities have quotas for students of African descent and Brazilians are more aware and proud of their origins”.  When Lula was elected, he made cooperation with Africa a priority. Since then, 19 new embassies have opened across Africa and Lula became the Brazilian president that visited that continent the most. His handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, has followed Lula’s footsteps in this respect. 

Along with private investment, the Brazilian state has set up several projects in Africa: these mainly include sectors such as agriculture, biofuel, health and environment. From technical cooperation to financial investments, Brazil is building an influence network both in Portuguese speaking countries and the rest of the continent.

REDD+ is not ready

Brazil’s shine is so strong that some nations strive to emulate its most notorious developmental projects. In Africa, Mozambique has voiced its admiration for Bolsa Floresta, the first international program that pays populations to preserve the Amazon forest and avoid deforestation and carbon emissions. Mozambique is currently working on a decree that will officially create a technical group for REDD+ - acronym for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Mozambique wants to start its own carbon market, since 70 per cent of the country is covered in forest and vegetation and 80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas and relies on forests to survive. Close to 85 per cent of the rural energy consumption comes from wood and charcoal, which consumes roughly 20 million cubic meters of wood a year. Brazil gave the know-how, Norway supplied funds and Mozambique provided the area.

Yet Brazil’s very own Bolsa Floresta is flawed. The sums offered to rural dwellers are not attractive enough to convince them to give up their use of the forest. Mozambique did not fare any better. The crux of the program lies in the payment to the populations to help keep the trees standing. Yet, according to Isilda Nhantumbo, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) - a non-profit institution behind the project -, there are reasons to question the sustainability of this measure. “What is the source of the payments?”, she wonders, “What is the compromise between beneficiary and payments? How can we measure and monitor the project?” The program is only at its first steps. Brazilian technicians were in Mozambique to instruct the African team leading the program, which is due to be implemented in 2015.  Mozambique will get $3.8 million to set up the plan, which includes studies about carbon stocks and examination of the benefit-sharing mechanism.

However, REDD+ in Mozambique is far from being ready. The IIED researcher admitted that cooperation with Brazil created some tension, due to the paradox between Brazilian investments and their posture towards the environment. “On the one hand Brazil intended to give some lessons and replicate its model in a copy/paste mode, on the other the hand it is channelling large investments in agriculture through a program called Prosavana that will occupy 6 million hectares of forest for agriculture. It is a threat, and a contradiction between the ‘green’ of the money and the ‘green’ of the environment. One cancels the other”, Isilda Nhamtumbo points out.

For the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment (MMA), REDD+ is not an official, state-run cooperation project. “It involves a Brazilian institution – Fundação Amazónia Sustentável – but it is important to point out that Brazil was invited to participate in this project and not the other way around”, clarifies Natalie Unterstell, manager of forest and climate change at the MMA.

Prosavana, a 6-hands play

Japan, Brazil and Mozambique partnered in a tripartite initiative aiming to “promote socio-economic development in an environmentally sustainable way through the development of agriculture”. This description can be read in several Mozambican newspapers outlining the project in which Mozambique lends 6,000 square kilometres for the plantation of corn, soya, rice and cotton for 50 years, renewable for another 50 years. Japan and Brazil invest $1 billion each, the latter provides technical support, since the area is very similar to Brazilian soil. According to the Mozambican Minister of Agriculture, 90% of the workforce will be Mozambican.

Jeremias Vunjanhe doubts whether the program will truly benefit Mozambique’s population or trade balance. He is equally concerned with the “secrecy” of Prosavana. “The program was announced in Brazil before even being publicly discussed in Mozambique. They say that there will be a transfer of technology and assistance to farmers in Mozambique, but this is not clear. Farmers are not being told how they will be integrated in the project”, he worries. 

The project will be implemented in 12 districts in the provinces of Nampula, Cabo Delgado and Zambézia. According to Vunjanhe, the north of the country is one of its most populated and fertile areas, “feeding a big part of the population”. Mônica Martins, a professor at the State University of Ceará, Brazil, and expert in the environment, is concerned with the future effects that this kind of plantations might have on Mozambican soil. “Despite the continuous optimistic statements from leaders about the outcome of this project, our experience with the monoculture of soybeans proved to be disastrous in the Brazilian soil”. 

A year ago, when the Brazilian delegation visited Mozambique to scout the area of the Prosavana project, the head of the delegation admitted that Brazilian investors chose Mozambique for the cheap land and flexible laws. In an article published in Folha de São Paulo, Carlos Ernesto Augustin stated “Mozambique is a Mato Grosso [a rural region in western Brazil] in the middle of Africa, with free land, without environmental impediments and with much cheaper shipping for China”. He continues affirming that "today, the land is expensive in Mato Grosso and it is impossible to obtain a license for deforestation”. 

Jeremias Vunjanhe concludes that these are the “real reasons for investing in Mozambique, it has nothing to do with increasing productivity and agriculture as the government now wants to justify”.

Nonetheless, MMA is pleased with Prosavana and believes that growth and sustainability are both met in the program. “It is fully compatible with the objective of sustainable development in a balanced environment”, Natalie Unterstell insists.

Brazilian green strategy

Natalie Unterstell just returned from Congo, where Brazil started an environmental monitoring project to mitigate the damages caused by greenhouse gases. “We have many requests for cooperation from several countries. We don’t go to a country because we want to, but because there is an interest from them”, she says, adamantly. Besides the funds from the ABC, the MMA also benefits from a Norwegian subsidy of $1billion, of which up to 20% of the resources can be used to support projects abroad.

For the MMA, the current priority is the South-South cooperation. “This dialogue with African countries is a partnership between equals. We are talking about countries that want to exchange technology and, in the environmental area, it is very important because we ourselves are still learning. Brazil does not stand as an example”, Natalie Unterstell adds. 
Jeremias Vunjanhe looks at the Brazilian cooperation from a different perspective. “Brazilian environmental projects in Africa work as a ‘business card’ for all the other investments that Brazils wants to do here”. He goes further saying that “when Brazil sees itself as a country that makes South-South cooperation, very often it claims leadership in poor countries. Brazilians criticize the way developed countries deal with them, but they are exporting the exact same model to African countries”.

Researcher Miguel Silva agrees and explains that “in economic terms, Brazil intends to access vital raw materials that can continue feeding the Brazilian economy”. Mônica Martins argues that the official Brazilian rhetoric describes South-South cooperation as a contribution for the Brazilian-African development. However, the real reasons differ, she reckons : “Brazil needs this alliance for its international perspective, to be able to enter into the United Nations Security Council, to sell products and technologies and to buy raw materials.”

A green paradox or a genuine interest?

“Of course there is a paradox when pursuing economic growth is connected with environmental preservation”, Martins promptly answers. She further explains that the image of Brazil-saving-the-environment and Brazil-projecting-an-international-positive-image walk hand-in-hand and are present in the actions of governments, NGOs and environmental movements. But no country will leave behind growth goals in order to pursue environmental objectives.

And some among Brazilian authorities are well aware of these contradictions. Speaking to the Brasileiros magazine, Nei Bitencourt, the Brazilian ambassador in the Republic of Cameroon spelled out the dilemma: “is our role focusing on cooperation and acting as a partner amongst equals, or is it to simply be investors focused on economic and commercial results?  If Brazil chooses to focus on profitability, is there a risk that we will be viewed as egotistical?  If cooperation is the route to be taken, will our own development interests be fulfilled? It is difficult to say what will happen but it is certain that these decisions will have to be mad”.

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