The purpose of the overseas offices of Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, is transferring the knowledge of the state company to underdeveloped or developing countries and cooperating, says Antonio Prado, analyst at Embrapa, in charge of relations with the African nations.
And he has been accomplishing his task with great success. The office of Embrapa Africa, located in Accra, capital of Ghana, has two employees, being one coordinator and one executive technician, who travel to cater to the agricultural needs of 15 countries. This month, a third professional is going to become part of the team.
According to Prado, in 2008, for instance, in addition to Ghana, projects have been elaborated for nations such as Angola, Cape Verde, Gabon, Mozambique, Nigeria and Senegal. The fields of operation are various.
In Angola, for example, the project entails the restructuring of the national agricultural investigation system of the country's Ministry of Agriculture. In Cape Verde, Embrapa is developing projects in the area of sheep and goat farming, horticulture, and also working for the institutional strengthening of the National Agrarian Research and Development Institute (Inida).
In Mozambique, an important project consists of building cisterns and underground dams to collect rainwater and take it to the country's rural communities. There is also a project underway for supporting the development of horticulture and fruit culture.
Other nations, such as Tunisia, Congo, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Tanzania, are also negotiating the implementation of projects with the Embrapa team for 2009. In November, researchers at the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture and at the Embrapa Savannah unit elaborated a memorandum of understanding to give rise to partnerships in several fields of research.
The main interest of the country is increasing production of durum wheat, which is harder and richer in proteins, and barley. "We are also holding talks with Libya, but had no meetings yet," claims Prado.
Presently, the African countries answer to 60% of requests made to Embrapa. For that reason, the company is expanding its team this year. The work of Brazilian professionals in Africa is varied.
They observe the local needs, devise projects informing which units of Embrapa in Brazil will participate, how many technicians will be necessary, the material that will be sent, such as seeds, and when, specify the costs, and also establish partnerships with supporters, for example.
The coordination, follow-up and results are also entrusted to the Embrapa professionals. "The company has an advanced arm in Africa," according to Prado.
For 2009, the company has three- and two-sided negotiations underway in Africa. The first ones are Brazilian proposals, made to foreign institutions, for carrying out actions in Africa.
"We are going to propose, for instance, that consultants at the Bill Gates Foundation make a visit to Embrapa in order to discuss the creation of a trust fund turned to genetic improvement of cassava in Africa," says Prado.
The company is also negotiating with the FAO a broad proposal for cooperation in actions turned to research in agriculture and technology transfer in Latin America, Haiti and Africa.
Prado explains that all costs are paid for with funds from the Brazilian cooperation program for the continent and, most of all, donations and capital from partnerships with multilateral organizations.
The office in Accra, for instance, is headquartered at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the agricultural research institute of Ghana, linked to the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports.
The institution counts on approximately 550 researchers, out of a group of 4,000 employees. Same as with Embrapa, besides its head offices, the CSIR has offices across the country that are dedicated to specific sectors, such as water, animals, soy, palm oil etc.
The office in Venezuela should also pick up steam in 2009. Inaugurated in 2008, the unit is working in partnership with the National Agricultural Investigation Institute (INIA) in order to reduce the country's foreign dependence for foodstuffs.
The country imports 70% of its needs. "In June 2008, one technician and two researchers visited Venezuelan cities to devise a project in the area of chicken farming, slaughtering and processing," says í‰lsio Figueiredo, general manager at Embrapa Swine and Poultry.
According to Figueiredo, the team proposed a similar model to the one adopted in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, at agrarian reform settlements. The basis is family farming, organized under worker cooperatives. With the implementation of the system, more than 25,000 birds could be slaughtered each day in the country. Currently, Venezuela imports around 100,000 tons of chicken meat per year. Domestic production is 800,000. The Venezuelan government earmarked US$ 10 million for the project.
To Figueiredo, "establishing partnerships for technology transfer with our neighbors will be really important to Brazil. And as for Embrapa, it will represent a new era," he says: "we must take our expertise in adaptation-oriented research and production to other places, after all, we have 30 years of dedication and knowledge in tropical agriculture."