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Brazil’s Tropical Solutions for Africa: Tractors, Matracas and the Politics of ‘Appropriate Technology’


This article focusses on mechanical farming technology sponsored by Brazil’s South-South cooperation in Africa. Tractors and matracas are taken as symbols of different agricultural development pathways promoted by Brazilian players. One stark contrast is between high-powered mechanised farming and no-till conservation agriculture. Another is between large-scale agriculture and small-scale family farming. Embrapa, widely known as the champion of the Green Revolution in Brazil, has also encouraged a conservation route and the use of no-till and small-scale equipment, such as matracas. The Brazilian Ministry of Agrarian Development, leading advocate of family farming and of political opposition to large-scale farming, has inadvertently sponsored tractors, feeding a new wave of mechanisation across Africa that overlooks the potential of smaller-scale alternatives. Brazilian actors and their African counterparts have instrumentally deployed technology, and tractors particularly, in the pursuit of their interests, whereas considerations about technological appropriateness to local conditions have hardly played a role.


Ce document se concentre sur une technique mécanique d’élevage subventionnée par la coopération Sud-Sud du Brésil en Afrique. Les tracteurs et les matracas sont utilisés comme symboles des différents parcours de développement agricultural favorisés par les acteurs brésiliens. Il existe un contraste important entre l’agriculture mécanisée à forte puissance et l’agriculture de conservation sans labour. Il existe également une différence entre l’agriculture à grande échelle et la petite agriculture familiale. Embrapa, mondialement connu comme le champion de la Révolution Verte au Brésil, a également encouragé une route de maintien et l’utilisation de petites installations et d’installations pour la culture sans labour, comme, par exemple, les matracas. Le ministère brésilien du développement agraire, le principal défenseur de l’exploitation familiale agricole et de l’opposition politique à l’agriculture à grande échelle, a involontairement subventionné des tracteurs, alimentant ainsi une nouvelle vague de la mécanisation en Afrique, ce qui néglige le potentiel des alternatives à plus petite échelle. Les acteurs brésiliens et leurs homologues africains ont instrumentalement déployé les technologies, et les tracteurs en particulier, à la poursuite de leurs intérêts, tandis que les préoccupations au sujet de la conformité technologique par rapport aux conditions locales, ont à peine joué un rôle.

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  1. 1.

    de Janvry (1978) classifies technology into four types: mechanical (which includes ploughing, harvesting and processing machinery), biological (seeds and cattle breed), chemical (fertilisers and pesticides) and agronomic (cultural practices and management techniques such as crop rotation, forage reserves, fertility tests and so on).

  2. 2., accessed on 9 October 2015.

  3. 3.

    Bryceson defines ‘deagrarianization’ as ‘a long-term process of occupational adjustment, income-earning reorientation, social identification and spatial relocation of rural dwellers away from strictly agricultural-based modes of livelihood’ (Bryceson, 2002, p. 726).

  4. 4.

    FAO defines conservation agriculture as ‘an approach to managing agro-ecosystems for improved and sustained productivity, increased profits and food security while preserving and enhancing the resource base and the environment’. Minimum mechanical soil disturbance is identified by FAO as one of the principles of conservation agriculture (the other are permanent organic soil cover and crop diversification) (, accessed on 9 October 2015).

  5. 5.

    Diao et al (2014, p. 169) document the importation of tractors, from either Chinese or Indian origin, by the governments of Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, DRC, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Swaziland and Tanzania.

  6. 6.

    The extent to which similar trends are noticeable in other African countries would need to be demonstrated – for example, Jayne et al (2013) provide evidence on the gradual shrinking size of farms in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, as result of rural population growth exceeding growth in arable land.

  7. 7.

    It was during the 1970s and 1980s that the first wave of mechanisation in African agriculture took place, in the post-colonial period. A second wave is now underway with the recent interest in agriculture and public investment in the sector (Diao et al, 2014).

  8. 8.

    Embrapa respondent 11, interviewed in Rio de Janeiro in March 2014.

  9. 9.

    Mozambican government official, interviewed in Maputo in July 2012.

  10. 10.

    Embrapa respondent 2, interviewed in Nampula in March 2014.

  11. 11.

    Embrapa respondent 12, interviewed in Brasília in July 2014.

  12. 12.

    Embrapa respondents 16, 17 and 19, interviewed in Brasília in July 2014.

  13. 13.

    Embrapa respondents 5 and 7, interviewed in Brasília in July 2014.

  14. 14.

    Mozambique Ministry of Agriculture official 2, interviewed in Maputo in February 2014.

  15. 15.

    Embrapa respondent 22, interviewed in Accra in March 2012.

  16. 16.

    Embrapa researcher, interviewed in Nampula in March 2014.

  17. 17.

    Embrapa researchers 16 and 19, interviewed in Brasília in July 2014.

  18. 18.

    For example, MDA respondent 1, interviewed in Brasília in November 2013 and industry representative interviewed in S. Paulo in July 2014.

  19. 19.

    MDA respondents 4, 6 and 7, interviewed in Brasília in July 2014.

  20. 20.

    MDA respondent 2, interviewed in Brasília in November 2013.

  21. 21.

    Industry representative, interviewed in S. Paulo in July 2014.

  22. 22.

    Like Ghana, the Mozambican government had announced the establishment of service provision centres (Centros de Prestação de Serviços) that would rent out tractors procured by the government to small-scale farmers (Notícias Online, 2015a, 2015b).

  23. 23.

    Mozambique Ministry of Agriculture official 2, interviewed in Maputo in February 2014.

  24. 24.

    It is worth noting that, in 2014, the Brazilian government established a National Policy for Agroecology and Organic Production, a process strongly supported by the MDA (


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This article was researched and written under the ‘China and Brazil in African Agriculture’ project ( and supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (grant: ES/J013420/1) under the Rising Powers and Interdependent Futures programme. I would like to thank all respondents whose valuable insights contributed to my analysis.

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Cabral, L. Brazil’s Tropical Solutions for Africa: Tractors, Matracas and the Politics of ‘Appropriate Technology’. Eur J Dev Res 28, 414–430 (2016).

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  • Brazil
  • Africa
  • agriculture
  • mechanisation
  • Green Revolution
  • South-South cooperation