At to share adaptable lessons that are compatible


At
a time when the axis of global power tilts irreversibly away from age-old
hegemons, significant changes are brewing across the international development
scene (Gore 2013). This climate surfaced in the wake of the agricultural push
of the 21st century in the aftermath of the world food price and energy crises
(UNCTAD 2009) which, coupled with the vast portfolio of questionable outcomes
and unmaterialised promises amassed over decades of North-led initiatives and
capital flows poured into Southern nations in the name of a prêt-à-porter idea of progress, have fed
into a mounting wariness of the neoliberal development project (Ashoff &
Klingebiel 2014). Such disillusionment has extended to the notion that
transnational alignments require fresh leaders unburdened by the tainted
legacies of imperialism (Mukherjee 2012) and better equipped to share adaptable
lessons that are compatible with the conditions of less-endowed states (Gray
& Gills 2016).

Although
South–South development cooperation (SSDC) is not a new phenomenon, the
strengthened political and economic muscle of middle-income countries (Gray
& Gills 2016), their rhetorical commitment to the fraternal spirit of the
Bandung declaration (Gore 2013) and their penchant for the largely neglected
rural sector (Cheru & Modi 2013, Buckley 2013, UNCTAD 2009) have aroused
expectations that this modality of engagement might be ideally suited to spur
growth in agrarian societies such as Mozambique, a food-deficit (FAO 1997) and
heavily aid-dependent (De Renzio & Hanlon 2007) sub-Saharan African country
whose national budget and donor funding allocations to agriculture are tiny
(Mosca 2012) and potential for rural growth has long been undercut by the
unfair competition from highly-subsidised farming industries of wealthy nations
whose protectionist walls distort trade flows and restrict market access (Gray
& Gills 2016). In front of the unprecedented opportunities, challenges and
uncertainties of the present time, Brazil, which is home to what is praised as
one of the greatest triumphs in agricultural history (JICA 2011) and notable
for increasingly adopting a more progressive stance to social welfare (Watts
2013, World Bank 2013), has increasingly projected itself as an alternative to
Northern aid (Cabral & Weinstock 2010, The Economist 2010) under the
auspices of this emerging framework, in particular in Africa (Vaz & Inoue
2008).

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This
study thus asks whether the South–South experiment carried out by the Latin
American powerhouse poses a new model of international development cooperation
that de facto constitutes something
different (White 2013) from and qualitatively better (Burges 2012) than the
inherently vertical and inequality-reinforcing (Six 2009) paradigm put forth by
the conditionality-based regime predicated on the OECD’s Development Assistance
Committee (DAC) guidelines. While the possibility that the very same
asymmetries might be repeated in flows between Southern countries has been
raised before (Cesarino 2012; Mawdsley 2011), no satisfactory answer has yet
been found. Moreover, a survey of the extant literature betrays an “overly
China-oriented lens” (Mawdsley 2010) which risks ironing out the heterogeneity of
the grouping. Crucially, empirically-grounded research on Brazil’s South–South
agenda that goes beyond description is relatively scarce in terms of how it has
been constructed and is operating.

Accordingly, the
present work aims to bridge these gaps and contribute to the wider scholarly
and political debate on the actual novelty of SSDC by analysing ProSAVANA, a trilateral
development cooperation programme which is unprecedented in terms of scale,
potential and, counterintuitively, ferocity with which it has been objected by
the intended beneficiaries. Run by the governments of Brazil, Japan and
Mozambique, it is aims to “create new agricultural development models” (FGV
Projetos 2013; ProSAVANA n.d.) for rural areas in Mozambique and is inspired by
the Japanese–Brazilian Cooperation Program for Cerrado Development (PRODECER), which converted 200 million
hectares of once-unproductive Brazilian land into a breadbasket and a
world-leading soybean producing region (Hosono & Hongo 2016) in a process
that remains hotly contested on environmental and social grounds (Mazzetto 2009;
Inocêncio 2010; Thenório 2006). To better explain the context of these
discussions, I will deploy a conceptual framework that combines Murray and
Overton (2016)’s concept of ‘retroliberalism’ and what Vijay Prashad (2012) terms
the ‘South from above’, as will be expounded in the next section of this paper.
Section three will subsequently present the selected case and show the
dissonance between its discourse and praxis to argue that what Brazil offers, far
from being revolutionary or intrinsically virtuous, is an instantiation of the
recent retroliberal trend associated with development cooperation, with added “Southern
characteristics” (Prashad 2013). The conclusion will suggest that it is time to
abandon the idea that continued exploitation of nature and society in the name
of wealth accumulation for an elite minority is a Northern prerogative and
emphasise that true hope for transformation rests in the ‘South from below’
(Prashad 2012).

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