August 9, 2017 | By Vitor Machado de Oliveira Fernandes

Guest Commentary: Brazil, Africa, and Stability in the 21st Century

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2017 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 20 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2017, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.

Despite progress made in the last few decades—particularly economic progress in countries such as Angola, Botswana, and Rwanda—Africa is still known as the “hungry continent.” It is paradoxical that the continent’s long-known agricultural potential continually struggles to translate into output, leaving Africa a net importer of food since at least the mid-1970s. Many countries struggle to meet the caloric and nutritional needs of their inhabitants, particularly the poorest, who ironically, are often farmers.

But not long ago, Brazil wasn’t so different. In interior Brazil, the cerrado, a type of tropical savannah with poor quality, acidic soils, was long considered unsuitable to support agriculture, and the people who lived there suffered from hunger and undernutrition, and were dependent on foods imported into the region. But a few decades ago, Brazilian agricultural outputs saw aggressive growth, and came to dominate the international commodities markets. The cerrado’s role in this phenomenon is key, and underpins Mato Grosso state’s transformation from cerrado frontier to the largest soybean producing state in the world. Far from a miracle of chance, however, these outcomes are the result of pragmatism and just the right, favorable conditions.

Favorable conditions refer to the reasonable stability of political and institutional environments Brazil has enjoyed for a hundred years; despite historic ups and downs, Brazil has avoided both civil war and radical structural changes to the economy, such as collectivization. The pragmatic approach, on the other hand, consisted of targeted research by Embrapa, a state-owned research corporation affiliated to the Ministry of Agriculture, focused on specific bottlenecks in Brazil’s agricultural system. To be more specific, Brachiaria decumbens, a kind of grass grown for livestock forage, was discovered to thrive in the cerrado, and planting it allowed beef cattle production to thrive there; the development and introduction of new varieties made soybeans compatible with the tropic’s heat; and agricultural best practices like no-till and lime spraying helped farmers overcome soil productivity limitations.  

Similarly, Africa has areas that present overall adequate conditions to support the industrial agriculture model successful in the Americas, such as the plains that extend between Angola and Mozambique and inner Ethiopia. And as long as tropical latitudes and climate is considered, there are possibilities for partial transfer of technology (even though there is necessary adaptation to specific conditions, such as diseases and plagues).

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Global Food Security Symposium is an example of our best thinkers leading efforts to improve Africa’s food and agricultural sector. Despite similarities with the Brazilian case, progress needs to be considered in a broader spectrum. It is of great importance that both African and foreign governments, as well as institutions, maintain collaboration to unlock the African agricultural potential. After witnessing the Symposium first hand as a Next Generation delegate, I cannot help but feel optimistic about the future.

Read previous blogs by the 2017 Next Generation Delegates: 

Food Security, Sustainable Agricultural Production, and Nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa

The Two Words Required to Sell Careers in Agriculture to Young People

Technology for Youth Engagement in the New Age of Agriculture

How Public and Private Partnerships Can Achieve a More Food-Secure World

Why a Practical Consensus on Animal Welfare Is Essential to Combating Climate Change 

Working Together in Times of Food Insecurity

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate: The Dilemma for Chicken Farmers in Tanzania

Unifying the Next Generation through Open Data 

Food Security: Agriculture, Society, and Ecology 

Canada's Challenge: Ending Chronic Food Insecurity in the Far North

Nutrition Security in the 21st Century


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


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