Potential South-South Cooperation: Traditional Chinese medicine and a radical cooperative of donkey ranchers in Brazil

Authors: Gustavo Oliveira*, University of California - Irvine
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Latin America, China
Keywords: Brazil, China, social movements, cultural and political ecology, globalization
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Maryland B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Research on South-South Cooperation (SSC) focuses almost exclusively on high-profile government-to-government and economic relations, churning generalizations about post-colonial solidarity or neo-colonial replications. This is particularly evident with China-Brazil relations, as both states pushed for decentralization of global governance in various multilateral forums, but their economic ties are highly uneven (Brazil exports agroindustrial and mineral commodities, and imports cheap manufactured products from China). More critical scholars deepen this debate arguing that Brazil-China SSC is a façade not simply because it recreates political-economic dependence at the inter-state level, but primarily because it propels a transnational elite from the Global South at the expense of marginalized peoples and the environment across both countries. But are there material possibilities for Brazil-China SSC that advance ecological sustainability and empower the marginalized? Drawing on participant observation and critical global ethnography, I discuss an attempted agroindustrial partnership between a radical peasant movement (MST) in Brazil’s poor semi-arid hinterland and a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) company that uses donkey hides as its main ingredient. Donkeys were largely abandoned, replaced by motorcycles and other machinery, and became a “pest” competing with scarce pasture where peasants graze goats. Chinese demand and investment promised much needed finance and technological transfer for the MST cooperative to scale up from goats to donkeys, capturing a new market for sustainable donkey ranching under their own control, while the TCM company also depends upon protecting water resources domestically. Material conditions exist for SSC to reduce socio-ecological inequality and degradation, but political power is also necessary.

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