From the Editor: BRICS nations a growing force in grain

by Arvin Donley
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One of the more fascinating developments in global agriculture over the last 20 years has been the emergence of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) as a growing force in grain production and trade.

Defined by growth and expansion in virtually every way imaginable over this period, this bloc of nations represents nearly half of the world’s population, 25% of its land and about 45% of its agricultural output.

A report released in November 2017 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service entitled “The Global Landscape of Agricultural Trade, 1995-2014,” included a section that outlined the BRIIC’s increasing importance in agricultural trade (In its study, the USDA included Indonesia – hence, the second I – and did not include South Africa, which was formally admitted by the bloc of nations in 2010).

Among the findings in the ERS report:

  • The countries’ share of nominal agricultural import value rose to 19% in 2011-14 from 13% in 1995-99, and their share of export value rose to 23% from 14% over those same time periods.
  • Real GDP growth per person in all BRIIC countries but Brazil was historically high from 1995-2014, with China’s per capita GDP increasing by an astounding 400% during that period.
  • From 1995-2012, BRIIC countries achieved annual total factor productivity growth in agricultural products above the global average of 1.52%, with Brazil at nearly 3.5%, China at 3%, Russia at 2.5% and Indonesia at 2.25%.

Looking to the future, the USDA predicts that continued economic growth in China, India and Indonesia will spur consumption growth and that the BRIIC’s share of the global economy will reach 27% by 2025, exceeding that of both Europe and North America.

While many arrows appear to be pointing up for this bloc of emerging nations, it must be noted that Goldman Sachs, whose chief economist Jim O’Neill coined the acronym “BRIC” in his 2001 paper in which he argued that these emerging countries would likely dominate the 21st century globalized economy, shut down its BRIC investment fund several years ago after its assets dropped significantly.

Certainly, these countries have their share of issues to contend with. The commodities collapse in recent years has had a negative impact, particularly on Brazil and Russia. And as the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations notes in a recent briefing, there’s not much that unifies the BRICS countries besides the fact that they are large and non-Western. In the case of China and India, there has even been recent military tension as Indian and Chinese troops spent last summer in a standoff in territory disputed by China and Bhutan, an ally of India.

Thankfully, from an agricultural standpoint, there does appear to be sincere cooperation taking place. The countries have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the establishment of the BRICS Agricultural Research Platform. It is envisaged as a virtual facility to promote food security, sustainable agri-development and poverty alleviation through strategic cooperation in agriculture within the BRICS countries.

In addition to India working on setting up the virtual research platform, the action plan involves Russia preparing a document on international trade and investment; China working on the establishment of an agri-database for the countries; Brazil working on the issue of food security for the most vulnerable people; and South Africa developing a strategy on climate change.

If the cooperation in this endeavor is genuine, and meaningful knowledge and information is gained and shared between these countries on these topics, one can only envision this bloc of nations becoming an even more formidable force in agriculture in the years to come.

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