3.4. related to the legacy of civil

3.4. Critiques and contestation

ProSAVANA
has sparked much controversy between civil society and governments. With a view
to further illustrating the lack of novelty of Brazil’s SSDC approach, this
section will examine more closely some of the most common critiques facing the
programme.

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One
of the most contested aspects is the suitability of the pool of solutions
proposed to address Mozambique’s malaises. Civil society actors stress that the
programme’s focus on raising agricultural efficiency by means of increased use
of modern agricultural technology might not be the best strategy (Chichava
& Duran 2016) to tackle the numerous constraints hindering the development
of the sector, which include structural issues related to the legacy of civil
war and weak institutional capability (Cabral et al. 2012). Moreover, civil
society distrust ProSAVANA’s agribusiness approach and its compatibility with
the traditional livelihood of the Mozambican peasantry. In their view, the
promotion of highly mechanized, virtually manual labour-free, monoculture-based,
resource-intensive, export-oriented and commodity-centred agriculture might
rather be counterproductive to food sovereignty, giving rise to a dependence on
and vulnerability to highly unequal international markets, price volatility and
other external factors. For critics of the programme and other experts, the
domestic market should be the focus of any initiative for the promotion of benefits
and food security to the Mozambican population should be self-sufficiency (Cabral
et al. 2012; Chichava & Duran 2016).

Additionally,
ProSAVANA’s premise was that the Nacala corridor and the Brazilian cerrado share similar soil and climate,
so technology could be easily adapted. As it turns out, however, the two
regions differ dramatically (Shankland & Gonçalves 2016, Wise 2014). In short,
the cerrado’s lands were
predominantly poor in quality and thus not so densely populated. By contrast,
the area covered by ProSAVANA has fertile soils that are not free for taking and
are already being used—and precisely for this reason, the area has the highest
concentration of people in rural Mozambique. Such disconnect between the claims
made by ProSAVANA to its investors and the reality of the situation fuels fears
that it might carry a tremendous social impact related to land grabbing and
forced displacements.

 

3.5. ProSAVANA as an instantiation of
retroliberalism and the Southern dominance ‘from above’

As
evidenced by the aforementioned discourse-praxis gaps, Brazil’s South–South
experiment is aligned with the retroliberal regime to the extent that it
enables certain actors to co-opt the mantle of aid to facilitate trade, maintain
or expand political influence, secure new terrains for accumulation and gain
access for large agribusiness and private investors to untapped resources and
markets. In other words, the focus of the programme rests on addressing issues
that affect the ‘haves’ in partner countries (the South ‘from above’), as
opposed to rallying behind matters of concern to the Mozambican people and CSOs
(the South ‘from below’). For this reason, as counter-hegemonic as it may seem,
Brazil’s flagship programme’s lack of innovation and sensitivity for local
concerns shows that SSDC is subject to asymmetries similar to those that have
long plagued the traditional North–South approach.

It
follows logically that this model is neither fundamentally revolutionary nor
qualitatively better, for it is anchored in a reincarnation of the
neoliberalist ideology, which has and will continue to reproduce inequality as
it is a system predicated on differentiation. Furthermore, the programme’s
understanding of development is one that exhumes elements of the modernisation
theory, which sees ‘growth’ as a natural predecessor of ‘development’ and
assumes a confluence of interests among all parties involved. Surely, the
strengthened role of the private sector in development initiatives may indeed
lead to upgrades in ‘headline’ growth figures in Mozambique; however, as the
existing literature indicates (ActionAid 2014), the major beneficiaries of such
strategies tend to be primarily the donors, with some spill-over gains for
elites in recipient partners, whereas the outcomes for ordinary citizens are
less certain and sometimes negative.

 

4. Final remarks

Partners
involved in South–South development cooperation (SSDC) are thought to pursue
differentiated principles and practices vis-à-vis traditional North–South
cooperation (Smith & Zimmermann 2011). This paper examined Brazilian
engagements in the Mozambican agricultural sector in the context of ProSAVANA
to expose significant ruptures between such claims and on-the-ground realities,
calling into question the purported novelty of the South–South cooperation
framework and relativizing its alleged distinctiveness and benignity over the
DAC-led approach. This effort revealed that Brazil’s South–South experiment is
neither intrinsically positive nor a decisive departure from the mainstream
model, for the ideology of neoliberalism remains deeply entrenched. In effect,
such programmes which are designed to foster the technological and
institutional climate to attract private-sector investments tend to be an
expansion of the Western development project, now repackaged “with Southern
characteristics” (Prashad 2013), and reflective of the current retroliberal aid
regime (Murray and Overton 2016). In sum, based on the Brazilian experience,
the present study has sought to offer an antidote to overly eager optimism
about SSDC, for the analysis of ProSAVANA shows that the endeavour is still firmly
rooted in an orthodoxy that is fundamentally incapable of producing sustainable
and equitable development.

Two
cautionary notes are in order before closing this section. Firstly, this paper
did not seek to issue a license for the curtailment of development cooperation
between Southern countries, which remains a most necessary platform against an
unjust distribution of global power harking back to colonial times. What this
author takes issue with, however, is the how little the distributional challenges
and implications of such growth are discussed, the lack of mention of the
losers in processes of resource extraction and industrialisation, as well as the
fact that the underlying agenda has a problematic inattention to the rights of
the poor and marginalised in terms of how weakly they are programmed into
policy documents. Moreover, the return of economic growth to the centre of the retroliberal
agenda and the ever-growing place for the private sector, including large
corporations, entail a significant risk of capture by state-corporate interests
incompatible with the realisation of progressive and balanced development
outcomes. Secondly, neither have I sought to argue for a dismissal of historic
importance of the increased role of the ‘rising powers’ in international
development—new state-to-state partnerships that stand outside the narrow
perimeter of the dictates imposed by the Bretton Woods institutions can enlarge
developing countries’ room for manoeuvre with traditional donors by creating
donor competition (Kragelund 2008). Yet, a warning against uncritical
acceptance of a depoliticised and idealised notion of the ‘global South’ and
overly confident assertions that are not supported by conceptual or policy
instruments is necessary, as is increased awareness that arrangements within
this framework, not unlike North-South development cooperation, may exacerbate
the problems they seek to address. I therefore finish this paper by reiterating
that the most critical steps for making this model work for all Southern
stakeholders, both domestically and abroad, are relying less on semantics ‘from
above’ and more on reality ‘from below’ and facing up to the fact that
eliminating poverty cannot be done without a more democratic order.