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Brazilian provision of cooperation in agriculture: politics and paths

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by Iara Costa Leite, Articulação SUL

Agriculture has become the main flagship of Brazilian engagement in South-South Development Cooperation (SSDC). According to official data, the sector leads the country’s provision of technical cooperation, gathering more than 20% of initiatives. In the context of global efforts aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals, particularly the first one, the Brazilian “path” has been internationally recognized as an example to be followed, especially by Sub-Saharan Africa, in order to tackle primary development challenges such as food security and the fight against hunger.

Such argument, however, has to be qualified taking into consideration national as well as international broader political dynamics.

Brazilian success stories are being told at the onset of post-neoliberalism, post-Iraq invasion and the Chinese protagonism in international development cooperation, thus in a setting marked by traditional donors’ search for reconstructing the legitimacy of the cooperation they provide. This might mean that the international support for the diffusion of Brazilian practices is not relying on impact analysis and on adaptation to recipient countries.

On the other hand, far from being a coherent whole – which is usually assumed when referring to Brazil as a “wakening giant” or an “emerging power” – the country is a collection of multiple domestic interests and social and political particularities. Combined with the institutional dispersion of the provision of cooperation, this might mean that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not overseeing the whole decision-making process that results in technical cooperation initiatives in other developing countries.

Particularly in the agricultural domain, important steps were taken in order to bring more coherence to Brazilian technical cooperation (the establishment of structuring projects and of the “Brazil-Africa Dialogue on Food Security, Fight against Hunger, and Rural Development” are examples of that). However, most Brazilian agencies still seem to assume that if something has worked in Brazil, it may be successfully exported to other developing countries. While policy transfer has become an instrument for strengthening domestic support for state-led development, it is important to remember that a lot of successful national policies were designed in a context of strong social mobilization and economic growth at home. Although Brazilian solutions in tropical agriculture might be more adaptable to other developing countries because of similar geographical and climate conditions, social, political and economic dimensions also need to be considered.

If Brazil’s main purpose is to really contribute to other countries’ development, it is fundamental to consider global and national contexts in order to design more coherent and effective policies. Important shifts would be attained through, for instance: stimulating the collection and systematization of lessons learned by Brazilian agencies, as well as diffusing them and establishing periodical dialogue among national institutions engaged in SSDC; stimulating contacts and exchanges among Brazilian social movements and their counterparts in African countries; and supporting country studies in Brazil in order to guarantee that the provision of technical cooperation will be informed by knowledge on the particularities of partner countries.

That might lead to a focus on a smaller number of countries, but in the medium and long term, Brazil may get more out of doing ‘something for some’ than failing to accomplish its promises to several. At the same time, stimulating national dialogue on Brazilian technical cooperation might have spillover effects over national policies themselves, contributing to overcome mutual blaming in Brazil, one of the critical factors that hinders real national development from taking place. The feeling of inspiring other countries in their search for development might be inaugurating an unprecedented opportunity for multiple governmental and non-governmental sectors in Brazil to establish a relationship of trust with each other.

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