International Development Cooperation from Below: Recipient Agency in Agriculture Development Cooperation in Haiti
Recipient agency has been theorised in different ways in development discourses and practices; but it is widely recognised that development settings have always been uneven fields of power, in which recipient agency faces various forms of constraint and limitation. Since the 1970s, ‘participatory development’, aiming to engage local populations in development projects, has become popular among development practitioners working on the ground. In ‘mainstream’ development aid approaches since the late 1990s, the idea of state-led recipient ownership and participation in development has gained popularity among international financial institutions, donor and recipient governments, and aid practitioners. At the same time, with the ‘rise of the South’, the development cooperation landscape became much more polycentric; including around ideational claims on non-conditionality and respect for the sovereign authority of partner states. At least in theory, there is now more choice, giving recipients more bargaining power and thus more agency.
Whereas studies of recipient agency have focused so far on structural inequalities between recipients and donors in North-South relations, and on new opportunities offered by the Southern partners, this thesis proposes looking beyond the North/South categories and identifies what in practical terms affects recipient agency. The thesis explores recipient agency through detailed, field-based research in Haiti, analysing the complexities of donor-recipient interactions. In a case-study analysis, the research compares agricultural development projects of Brazil, Cuba, France, and the United States, to explore how the assertions of Northern donors (such as participation and ownership) and Southern partners (solidarity, demand-driven approach, mutual respect) unfold in practice. A systematic analysis of recipient perceptions provides an empirically led analysis of the ways in which dichotomous categories of North and South are problematic, and in this case, are certainly not necessarily categories that are meaningful to recipients. By looking beyond these binary categories the thesis points to particular factors related to recipient agency that can be identified within and across the two categories, which offers a more nuance understanding of the subject. To better understand these factors, the thesis proposes a three-level of analysis model that looks at recipient agency on a project level, on an interpersonal level and on the state level.