At nations in the name of a prêt-à-porter

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

AlthoughSouth–South development cooperation (SSDC) is not a new phenomenon, thestrengthened political and economic muscle of middle-income countries (Gray& Gills 2016), their rhetorical commitment to the fraternal spirit of theBandung declaration (Gore 2013) and their penchant for the largely neglectedrural sector (Cheru & Modi 2013, Buckley 2013, UNCTAD 2009) have arousedexpectations that this modality of engagement might be ideally suited to spurgrowth in agrarian societies such as Mozambique, a food-deficit (FAO 1997) andheavily aid-dependent (De Renzio & Hanlon 2007) sub-Saharan African countrywhose national budget and donor funding allocations to agriculture are tiny(Mosca 2012) and potential for rural growth has long been undercut by theunfair competition from highly-subsidised farming industries of wealthy nationswhose protectionist walls distort trade flows and restrict market access (Gray& Gills 2016). In front of the unprecedented opportunities, challenges anduncertainties of the present time, Brazil, which is home to what is praised asone of the greatest triumphs in agricultural history (JICA 2011) and notablefor increasingly adopting a more progressive stance to social welfare (Watts2013, World Bank 2013), has increasingly projected itself as an alternative toNorthern aid (Cabral & Weinstock 2010, The Economist 2010) under theauspices of this emerging framework, in particular in Africa (Vaz & Inoue2008).Thisstudy thus asks whether the South–South experiment carried out by the LatinAmerican powerhouse poses a new model of international development cooperationthat de facto constitutes somethingdifferent (White 2013) from and qualitatively better (Burges 2012) than theinherently vertical and inequality-reinforcing (Six 2009) paradigm put forth bythe conditionality-based regime predicated on the OECD’s Development AssistanceCommittee (DAC) guidelines.

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While the possibility that the very sameasymmetries might be repeated in flows between Southern countries has beenraised before (Cesarino 2012; Mawdsley 2011), no satisfactory answer has yetbeen found. Moreover, a survey of the extant literature betrays an “overlyChina-oriented lens” (Mawdsley 2010) which risks ironing out the heterogeneity ofthe grouping. Crucially, empirically-grounded research on Brazil’s South–Southagenda that goes beyond description is relatively scarce in terms of how it hasbeen constructed and is operating.Accordingly, thepresent work aims to bridge these gaps and contribute to the wider scholarlyand political debate on the actual novelty of SSDC by analysing ProSAVANA, a trilateraldevelopment cooperation programme which is unprecedented in terms of scale,potential and, counterintuitively, ferocity with which it has been objected bythe intended beneficiaries. Run by the governments of Brazil, Japan andMozambique, it is aims to “create new agricultural development models” (FGVProjetos 2013; ProSAVANA n.

d.) for rural areas in Mozambique and is inspired bythe Japanese–Brazilian Cooperation Program for Cerrado Development (PRODECER), which converted 200 millionhectares of once-unproductive Brazilian land into a breadbasket and aworld-leading soybean producing region (Hosono & Hongo 2016) in a processthat remains hotly contested on environmental and social grounds (Mazzetto 2009;Inocêncio 2010; Thenório 2006). To better explain the context of thesediscussions, I will deploy a conceptual framework that combines Murray andOverton (2016)’s concept of ‘retroliberalism’ and what Vijay Prashad (2012) termsthe ‘South from above’, as will be expounded in the next section of this paper.Section three will subsequently present the selected case and show thedissonance between its discourse and praxis to argue that what Brazil offers, farfrom being revolutionary or intrinsically virtuous, is an instantiation of therecent retroliberal trend associated with development cooperation, with added “Southerncharacteristics” (Prashad 2013).

The conclusion will suggest that it is time toabandon the idea that continued exploitation of nature and society in the nameof wealth accumulation for an elite minority is a Northern prerogative andemphasise that true hope for transformation rests in the ‘South from below'(Prashad 2012).


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