The Interview with Brazilian Ambassador
Ambassador Laudemar Aguiar, the Chargé d'Affaires of the Brazilian Embassy in Ghana sits with Norvan Acquah-Hayford of the Business and Financial Times, and talks about a number of Brazilian companies who have invested in Ghana in areas such as road construction, rice farming, paint production and cashew processing.
During the interview, Ambassador Laudemar recounted the historic relationship between Brazil and Ghana and reiterated his government’s commitment to strengthening the already strong bonds through trade.
B&FT: Tell me, how long have you been in this country?
Six months already, going into the seventh month.
B&FT: I see, how do you find Ghana?
I like it very much. I came to fill in the gap between the former Ambassador Irene Vida Gala who left at the end of January and the new Ambassador who will arrive in a few weeks. I am a career diplomat and an Ambassador. I came to Ghana as a special attaché to fill in the gap, keep the boat floating and I think we are managing to do this.
B&FT: Tell me about your experiences in the seven months you have lived and worked in Ghana?
I have tried to get to know the country outside of Accra. One of my first priorities was to visit the Brazilian business working here in Ghana. So, I have been to Kumasi, I have been to Prampram, Tema and Takoradi to see the businesses that we have in Agriculture and infrastructure business.
There are still others that I should see but I can tell you that I have also been to the rice farms, the cashew nut processing factory and a company that delivers infrastructure projects including the pipes that we are providing to be used by off shore companies in your oil industry.
I also have visited the central market, Kejetia that a Brazilian company is building in Kumasi. I did all this because the idea was first to see how we are doing with Ghana, to get in touch with our business people and work with the relevant ministries to see where we can expand our economic trade and relationships.
I am very glad to say that during my short period here, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Afriyie Akoto has already been to Brazil, where he was received by three ministers in our country and that we already have some cooperation in the agricultural sector, which is one of the flagship areas of the Government of Ghana and an area in which Brazil has considerable exeprience.
B&FT: Just before we delve into trade investments, bilateral relations and those areas, when you were told that you were coming to Ghana. How did you receive the news?
I was very glad because it was my first time in Africa as an Ambassador. I have been to Africa before, I have been to Mozambique, South Africa and Morocco severally for short meetings but this is the first time that I spent more than a week in an African country and Ghana was a wonderful choice for me.
First because you have a stable democracy, with a new government having been sworn in. So, as I was starting my duties, I assumed duties with a new government this provided new room to start to cooperate.
Apart from the business side, two days after I arrived, I was taken by the former Ambassador to the funeral of the Asantehemaa in Kumasi, so in two days, I was already in touch with one of your biggest expressions of culture which is a funeral and what a funeral for a queen mother of a hundred and eleven years old. I have been privileged to attend traditional and cultural ceremonies in other parts of Ghana, Akropong, Kyebi, with the Gas, Cape Coast,
At each of there occasions I could see the power of the mix of tradition and of modern culture that we have here in Ghana and since then, I have been in touch with several different areas in culture. Working with Professor Efua Sutherland of the University of Ghana, for instance, we have played a small part in the 25th PANAFEST anniversary.
B&FT: Well, you talk of being in touch with the University of Ghana which is in relation with education. How about the other universities we have in the country?
Well, let me talk of the three things I think we can cooperate more with. First, in education. You should know that over the last few years, we have sent Ghanaian students to public universities in Brazil. We have a program, a student exchange program in Brazil that since 2012, has seen a cooperation with African countries and Latin American countries.
Ghanaian students have gone to Brazil to study in a range of disciplines from pharmacy, dentistry to agriculture to economics.
Last year, more than 70 students were approved for a program and 54 have actually gone to Brazil. This year we have all together, more than 100 Ghanaian students studying in different parts of my country.
B&FT: Are they on a full scholarship supported by your government?
What we have arranged is that the eligible Ghanaians go to Brazil and we ensure that they have placement in public schools, public universities in Brazil. The students are required to pay for their living expenses, usually this means the parent or persons responsible for them, pay forr their upkeep.
After one year, if their grades are high, the Ghanaian students studying in our program in Brazil can access partial scholarship. I am happy to note that some of the Ghanaian students have received these partial scholarships.
The objective and incentive is to prove that if you study and deliver the grade stands required, you can have access a scholarship program. First, you start with a confirmed vacancy in a public university in Brazil. We are in the process now of choosing and selecting Ghanaian students. More than 120 have been interviewed and submitted their applications. By the end of the year, we will know how many will be able to go to Brazil.
Apart from that, in culture, Ghanaians and the Brazilian share very common heritage.
B&FT: Tell me about the similarities between Ghana and Brazil.
Our shared heritage dates back to the first half of the 19th century, when several descendants of enslaved Africans in Brazil were borught back to the west coast of Africa. Some established themselves in Nigeria, in Benin and Togo and a few families came here to what was the Gold Coast, to the Greater Accra region where they were received by the Ga’s and because they spoke only Portuguese, they had an expression that meant "it's okay". In Portuguese, 'it's okay' translates as “Tabom”. This is how the Afro Brazilians in Ghana became known as the “Tabom community”.
They established themselves in Jamestown. They are part of the chieftaincy of the Ga community and they stayed here. Now in Jamestown, through the Tabom community we have a living human bridge between Brazil and Ghana.
And as I was talking about the PANAFEST, the pan-African historical festival took place from the 25th of July to the 2nd of August, for the first time, I was incredibly touched that South American countries, specifically Colombia and Brazil, were invited by the organizers to truly participate in the Emancipation Day memorial service and the festival.
Our contribution from Brazil, included a photographic exhibition at the Dubois Center in Accra. We set it up in an interesting way, we placed some photographs of Ghanaians and in the middle, we had a photograph of a Brazilian and vice versa - we have some photographs of Brazilians and in the middle, we have a Ghanaian. It is interesting to note that, sometimes, the Ghanaians who came to the exhibition couldn't tell who was Brazilian and who was Ghanaian. We do have a common heritage.
Let me add that back home in Brazil, more than 50% of our population is of African descent. In fact, after Nigeria, Brazil is the country with the biggest population of afro descendants in the world, we are talking about more than 100 million people with historical links to Africa.
B&FT: The history is fascinating and unknown. In the modern global economy what should we know about Brazil's cooperation with Ghana, specifcally in the agricultural sector.
Over the last 2 decades, there has been a big boom in the agricultural sector in Brazil. The agri-business sector added substantial value to the economy and in the development of a value chain. Today, Brazil does not only sell commodities we also export processed agricultural goods, including meat and poultry as well as equipment and expertise.
We have initiated 2 programs in Ghana. First, we have a program called 'More Food International' this a pact we have with specific countries. We launched the first phase with Ghana last year where we financed the delivery of critical equipment’s and machinery for the agricultural sector. We are now concluding the discussions that will lead to agreement of the second phase to provide some $33 million worth of more equipment and machinery to support transforming your agricultural industry. The aim of this government is to improve the participation of small holder farmers and we in Brazil certainly understand what that entails. This second phase of providing machinery and equipment is a progressive cooperation between Brazil, Ghana and two other African countries this year.
We selected Ghana because the program as proposed by the government is directed at improving the conditions and the productivity of the small holder farmers. We are in final discussions, the equipment has already been selected by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, led by the Minister, the equipment should arrive in Ghana in the next few months.
The visit to Brazil by Minister Akoto in July was fruitful and we see this as one program where we can cooperate with Ghana to improve the agricultural sector.
In the second initiative, we also believe in capacity building and technical cooperation, these will be signed with Ghana shortly. This cooperation will be with Brazil and Germany and Ghana. The Brazilian Cooperation Agency and our very famous technical agricultural agency that develops seeds to combats diseases and pests in the agricultural field., these 2 agricultural leaders working together with the cooperation of Germany have signed an agreement with the MOFA to transfer knowledge and skills. We held an initial workshop three months ago to train Ghanaians on how to handle some diseases in the sector and we will be signing shortly, a cooperation on cashew and its by-products.
In Brazil for instance, we use all of the cashew. From the cashew nut, to the apple to the remains of the cashew and so on. Here, you only use the cashew nut and that may explain why about 12 cashew processing plants have collapsed. Now there are only two viable cashew processing plants and one of them is actually Brazilian. So, the idea is to give Ghana the opportunity not only to sell the products in in its raw state but also to process it here in Ghana and add value which will help the farmers diversify their incomes and grow the economy of Ghana.
B&FT: So, are we going to see Brazilian companies coming here to invest in developing the value chain of the cashew sub sector?
Exactly. Not only in cashew, the idea is to try to increase the cooperation in other areas. There is interest from the Ghanaian government to have this cooperation in the cocoa sector and we are aiming at that as well. I took part in the Ghana Economic Forum, speaking in the Agric session precisely about these opportunities and challenges.
We decided together with our export promotion agency for them to come to Ghana and have directed conversations between Ghanaian businesses and industries and between our companies, most of whom are focused on and working in agriculture. We are not focusing only on agriculture, we would like to come back to the other sectors that we are working on with Ghana.
B&FT: Ghana has been battling with the Fall Armyworm pest since the beginning of this year, I know that at some point Brazil was also forced to address this agricultural disease. How were you able to control it?
Well I’m not a technician but I think is important to develop your research and technical agencies. In order to improve our agricultural sector, Brazil paid particular attention to investing in research and really, it is our research agricultural agency that has been mainly responsible for the successes that we had in the agriculture business tin developing more resilient seeds and the ability to fight off diseases.
This is a specific technical area that we are aiming to cooperate in with Ghana and other countries. It’s a real cooperation that we want to have with you, with Ghana and you are talking about the agricultural sector and of course you cannot think of improving and developing the agricultural sector if you don’t think of developing other sectors.
Infrastructure for instance. How can you develop the agricultural sector if you don’t have good storage, if you don’t have good highways, if you don’t have an effective and accessible rail system. If you don’t have the integrated infrastructure needed to produce, to to keep what you are producing, process, sell and export then there is an issue in sustained delivery.
There are a lot of things that we have to do together to develop agriculture and this is why I like this strategy of your government that aims not only at one sector but seeks to leverage reform in several different sectors that conform a long-term strategy. You cannot think of changing the economy of a country in a fourth administration and work on short term goals.
As you are thinking of 'planting for food and jobs, one district one factory, one dam', technology and also other things that have to go together. For instance, in aviation sector, I don’t know how far you in the negotiations to have a new air carrier and whether Ghana foes proceed or not to have a national carrier, it is important to develop the aviation industry including effective cargo deliveries. You will have to develop ports - land, sea and air, across the country.
Imagine how good it would be for Ghana to be truly a hub in the aviation sector in West Africa. Imagine if Ghana would be a hub for western Africa and Brazil will be a hub for engagement with Latin America.
B&FT: You think we do not currently have the infrastructure to become the hub that you are imagining?
Ghana is renovating airports, you are looking at having aircrafts, and you have to develop your tourism industry. AWA as a commercial carrier, uses Brazilian aircrafts. Proof in point, you don’t need big aircrafts to deliver regional operations from Accra to Takoradi, to Tamale or neighboring countries.
B&FT: Would your government and Brazilian investors be interested in partnering with Ghana in setting up a national airline?
Yes, it’s in our interest and in the interest of developing the western African corridor and Ghana. We are already in contact with your aviation ministry and your defense ministry in terms of trying to see where we can cooperate in setting up a national airline.
Of course, these conversations will develop further over the next few months and we do have interest in seeing this through. It took almost 24 hours for me to come from Rio to Accra. I had to go through Europe. Otherwise I would have had to go through Johannesburg and to have one or two stopover connections to come to Accra.
If we had a direct flight from Accra to Brazil either or the north east of Brazil we would be less than 5 hours flight time away from each other. Imagine how we could develop our trade and our relations not only between Ghana and Brazil but western African countries and South America if we have direct flight between our countries.
B&FT: An interesting prospect and look into the future. Today, what are the trade volume between Ghana and Brazil?
We had around $330 million which is very low, mostly from trading in commodities - cocoa from your side and sugar from our side but we can develop more. Of course we have also equipment because of this agreement we had with Ghana and we expect to have more this year but we can have more processed food exported to Brazil from Ghana and from Brazil to this country and that’s why some companies were in Ghana recently to meet directly with some Ghanaian companies who work n the agricultural sector.
B&FT: Who holds the advantage in the balance of trade between Brazil and Ghana and how do we improve on that?
Ghana exports more to Brazil, the difference is very little but you are exporting more. And the volumes are very low and what can we do to improve the products that are part of our export and import relationship of our trade.
We don’t want only to import cocoa from Ghana and I’m sure you don’t want to import sugar and some spare parts from Brazil. A Brazilian company, Marco Polo builds buses and the issue is for Ghana not only to import buses. Manufacturing or adding value is important.
Why are you importing more buses? You have to improve your facilities here. You have to improve public transportation as we have been doing in Brazil as well. So, everything comes together. When we talk of a city like Accra, His Excellency Nana Akufo-Addo wants to make it the cleanest city in Africa. Why should you look to Brazil? We have expertise in some areas and one thing that I have been speaking of and the feedback has been good from Brazil and from Ghana is that essentially, we have two stable democracies.
There is a lot going on in the political area, this is positive, we are fighting corruption and impunity as never before in Brazil. That is also one of the objectives of this government here in Ghana. Fighting corruption and impunity is the main objectives of a growing democracy to stable democracy and the economy. Both Ghana and Brazil are democracies led by business oriented governments.
B&FT: Brazil produces one of the finest sugar. Is there an interest from your private sector in investing in and reviving our Komenda Sugar Factory?
This too should be based cooperation. I mean there are two-way interest here, so, now that we have our government here that is interested in developing several sectors and we have the expertise which we have developed over the years, we should get together and see how we can work out practical time bound returns on investments.
That’s why we should improve and diversify our technical cooperation with you and have business people who come here who are interested in trade and are also interested in selling things as you are interested in selling goods, services and expertise to Brazil.
The Brazilian businesses are coming here to establish partnerships with Ghanaians and in several different areas. For instance, we have a company in Brazil who have all the knowledge needed to build factories, we have companies that are already here and working in rice farming.
We have other Brazilian companies that are not only interested to sell tractors here but to establish joint ventures. They have already liaised with Ghanaian companies to develop something here so the idea is of course trade has to develop and continue and to and to go to other areas. Also, we have to foster this cooperation of businessmen coming here and seeing where they operate and establish businesses in Ghana as well as in Brazil.
B&FT: In the time that you have left in Ghana, how do you intend deepen the bilateral relations between two countries?
Well, as I told you, I am here to fill in the gap until the substantive Ambassador who has been appointed arrives. And here are new investors who came to Ghana in August. We have a two-fold policy and that’s how we usually develop relations between countries. First, at the governmental level. We have to have governmental officials from Ghana going into Brazil and governmental officials from Brazil coming into Ghana.
And we also have to leverage the official government to government engagement with businesses from our side to come and meet companies to know more about Ghana. The point is we have to know each other better. Modern Brazil doesn’t know enough about Ghana and Ghana today doesn’t know enough of the opportunities in Brazil. This is an area that I feel we must work on now. In general conversation, not only in Ghana but in other countries that I have been to, when you talk about African countries, you talk about Africa as a whole, as if Africa was one country. This is not true, there are distinct opportunities and challenges across the continent.
In Ghana, the sheer diversity that you have is huge. If you compare the south of Ghana to the western area of Ghana, to the north of Ghana, you have the diversity. In terms of culture, in terms of economic development.
If you think of Brazil the south and north of Brazil, there are different types of development different areas of development. So, the first thing is to know each better and to know where we can cooperate. Ghanaians have to know Brazil, for that they have to actually go to Brazil and Brazilians have to know Ghana better and have to physically come to Ghana.
B&FT: As you prepare to leave Ghana, where would you want to see the relationship between the two countries in the next five years?
In the next five years, let’s talk about education. When I speak of knowledge, I am also talking about education where we will have more Ghanaians go into public institutions in Brazil and graduate as world class citizens, experts, technicians, policy makers.
This exchange will mean that they are not only learning and come back here to use the knowledge but they are learning about Brazil and sharing the Ghana experience with their host country. We have Ghanaian students in the south of Brazil, in the south-east and the north of Brazil and in the central of Brazil who will come back with knowledge both imparted and received.
What I would like to see is more Ghanaian students going into Brazil and also more Brazilians coming here. I want Brazilian students, especially peoples of African descent, to come here and go to universities in Ghana and learn more about Ghana and about your reality.
We have been doing well in the last decades but there a lot more to do with affirmative action. There are several areas that we can strengthen if we know each other better so in five years from now, what I would like to see is that Brazil gives priority to a stable democracy and a state that is business oriented. I want Ghana to give priority to a stable democracy and business orientation.
In five years , I would want to see two countries that are together in their values to share those values and democracy. I believe that all public and private sectors have to pull together and Brazil should be as much a priority to Ghana as Ghana should be a priority to Brazil.
B&FT: Thank you very much Mr. Ambassador for speaking to us.
It is my pleasure to have had you visit me today at our new Embassy. Thanksyou for your time.
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