Information and news on Brazil

urban agricultureWith approximately 1.5 million residents, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have dense populations with locations often on the outskirts of the city. Disproportionately underserved, the communities in these informal settlements deal with issues such as improper waste disposal, gang violence and unemployment. Out of Brazil’s total population of 214 million people, about 23.5% of people experience moderate to severe food insecurity.  Feeding America defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.” Run by gangs and riddled with violence, large areas of the favelas are often hard to reach and support, which leaves the local population with little choice but to devise their own strategies and solutions to address the issues in their communities. To improve living conditions in the favelas and wider Brazil, organizations are turning to urban agriculture to address food insecurity.

Urban Agriculture and Poverty

Urban agriculture involves the transferring of local food production processes to the urban landscape. Often community-centered, urban agriculture can take several forms, such as rooftop or community gardens. Urban farming provides a space where social bonds and collaborations may be formed within impoverished communities. Additionally, urban agriculture creates organic, affordable, accessible and nutritious food systems to improve food insecurity in the favelas. Not only does urban agriculture provide a reliable supply of food to people who need it most but urban agriculture can also create job opportunities for people in poverty.

Manguinhos Vegetable Garden (Horta de Manguinhos) Project

This urban farming project operating in the impoverished Manguinhos favela is “Latin America’s largest community farm.” In some areas of the Manguinhos favela, the unemployment rate exceeds 50%. According to Al Jazeera, the project is “helping at least 800 families survive” during COVID-19 while “employing more than 20 local workers at a time when Brazil grapples with a pandemic-battered economy.”

Created by Rio de Janeiro’s environment secretary, Hortas Cariocas is the “municipal-led social development initiative” that launched the Manguinhos Vegetable Garden in 2013 in an attempt to reduce poverty and improve food security in the favela. Members involved in the project receive training, equipment and weekly produce to secure the food needs of their families. The project also requires members to deliver some of the produce “to at-risk members.” The project then sells excess produce “commercially to Brazilian distributors.”

The Hortas Cariocas initiative has expanded to almost 50 vegetable gardens across Rio, according to Reuters in December 2021. All of Rio de Janeiro’s urban agriculture initiatives combined allow the city to yield “more than 80 tonnes of produce” to improve food security for more than 20,000 households.

Looking Ahead

Urban agricultural programs and initiatives in the favelas are a step toward providing marginalized communities with some form of self-sustenance and food security. In addition to this, urban farming also creates a potential source of income for communities as well as a green space for people to come together peacefully. As more urban agricultural initiatives form and expand, food insecurity in Brazil’s most impoverished areas reduces exponentially.

– Owen R. Mutiganda
Photo: Flickr

Amazon Deforestation
The Amazon forest is a critically important ecosystem and natural resource. It spans more than 2.3 million square miles and is home to around 30 million people. The Amazon lumber trade has left vast portions of the forest depleted and unsuitable for living or farming. In more than 15 years, Amazon deforestation rates have reached an all-time high. A recent publication by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research states that deforestation rates have surged 22% from 2020, with the lumber trade exploiting 13,235 km2 of the forest.

Amazon Deforestation and Poverty

Impoverished Amazonian communities rely on the rainforest for natural resources, food and water. However, once those resources disappear, it takes years, if not decades, for them to become replenished. Despite indigenous communities being the best caretakers for the forest, their efforts do not match the power of international traders and the government.

Survival International, an indigenous people’s rights organization, has described the Awa people of Brazil as “the most threatened tribe on earth” because loggers and ranchers constantly threaten their homeland and reservation. A local woman named Pirai expressed to BBC that “loggers, farmers, hunters, invaders… they are all coming back, they are killing all our forest.” Illegal logging pushes into land designated to various tribes. These communities face the harsh realities of Amazon deforestation, like decreases in biodiversity, which leads to changes in ecosystems and possible food sources.

Today, legal and illegal logging, cattle farms and soy farms have destroyed about 18% of the forest. However, in recent years the destruction of the rainforest has soared following the election of Jair Bolsonaro. The Bolsonaro government has proposed several bills with the agenda of loosening environmental protections throughout the pandemic. With Brazil being one of the largest exporters of beef and lumber, President Bolsonaro has prioritized economic gain at the expense of ecological and societal protections.

SOS Amazon

Despite efforts of law enforcement to halt illegal lumber trade practices in the Amazon, the Bolsonaro government has dismissed several officers for enforcing environmental protections. After being assigned to the Amazon region for over 10 years, Police Chief Alexandre Saraiva became one of those cases because of his commitment to combating Amazon deforestation. After leading Brazil’s largest illegal lumber bust and investigating former Brazilian Environmental Minister Ricardo Salles, President Bolsonaro demoted and relocated Saraiva to an area of Brazil that is nowhere near the Amazon forest.

In response to his relocation and demotion, Saraiva teamed up with songwriter Christina Saraiva and Brazilian singer Esther to create “SOS Amazon.” Saraiva and Ester released the song on YouTube prior to the 2021 United Nations Climate Summit to raise awareness among wealthy nations about their role in Amazon deforestation. According to Reuters, “he estimated that 90% of export papers are forged to hide their origins.” Therefore, the illegal lumber trade continues to be detrimental to the prosperity of the forest and local populations. The lyrics express that “the earth bleeds and burn. The fire flies and kills. I can’t lie and rest. I can’t just stay still.”

These powerful words convey that the Amazon forest is essential to the prosperity of the earth and local population, and many impoverished communities’ futures rest on saving the rainforest. Saravia expressed that “The Amazon is ours, Brazilian, but the obligation to preserve it is also ours. The international community needs to do their part by stopping acquiring illegal Brazilian timber.” Wealthy nations must hear Saravia’s message that local people and their livelihoods, in addition to vital natural resources, are suffering and dying because of Amazon deforestation in order to save Amazonian communities.

How to Help the Amazon and its People

Often, when natural resources and habitats are in danger, everyday people feel powerless to create change. However, people can do plenty from the comforts of their own homes. One great way to start thinking about change is by learning about the issue. When people become educated on specific topics, they often feel more empowered to help. Another way to help is by checking one’s carbon footprint and cutting down on paper usage.

According to Reuters, the top buyer of illegally processed wood is the European Union. As a result, ordinary people can prompt change by calling local representatives to support legislation that aids in rebuilding the Amazon instead of destroying it. When thousands of people make little changes in their lives to support the Amazon, it could create big impacts and brighter futures.

– Hannah Eliason
Photo: Unsplash

Conditional cash transfer
Conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs serve as poverty reduction tools. The government provides monetary support to individuals with low incomes on the condition that the individuals meet certain requirements. For example, an individual may receive a cash transfer on the condition that he or she keeps his or her child in school and ensures the child receives all necessary child immunizations. The aim of CCTs is to stop the transmission of poverty from generation to generation, which is why conditions, especially related to healthcare and education, are in place. CCTs have shown success as poverty reduction tools in many countries, especially in regions such as Latin America.

Benefits and Criticisms of Conditional Cash Transfers

A benefit of CCTs is that they allow people to use welfare to meet their specific needs. CCTs empower impoverished communities by giving them the choice, through the provision of cash, of how to use aid to best meet their individual needs. Other welfare programs are able to fulfill a specific need, but they also restrict the voice of impoverished communities to choose how to best fulfill their needs.

Another benefit is that giving individuals money is cheaper than providing people with goods. When paying for goods, the government must also pay for the secondary costs associated with the goods, such as storage and transportation. Therefore, direct cash payments are more cost-effective than programs that distribute goods.

A common concern with CCTs is that recipients will spend the money on alcohol and drugs instead of their basic needs. Researchers have conducted studies to learn more about how recipients spend CCT money and results show that most recipients spend the money on meeting their families’ needs.

4 Countries With Successful Conditional Cash Transfer Programs

  1. Brazil’s Bolsa Família. Established in 2003 by Brazil’s former president, Lula da Silva, the program provides 32 reais (about $19) every month for each child in a family with a household income of fewer than 140 reais ($82) in exchange for parents ensuring that their child attends school and regular doctor’s appointments. The government will provide money for up to five children per family. Bolsa Família is the world’s largest CCT program, benefitting 11.1 million families every year. The program has decreased income inequality and poverty in Brazil. Estimates indicate that rates of extreme poverty in Brazil “would be between 33% and 50% higher” if Bolsa Família was not in place. Overall, the program is responsible for decreasing income equality in Brazil by 12%-21%.
  2. Argentina’s Universal Child Allowance for Social Protection (AUH). Beginning in 2009, the program provides money to children from impoverished families. Every month, child beneficiaries receive $55. The government provides 80% of the money to the child monthly and places the remaining 20% into a savings account for the child. In exchange for the money, children must attend school and meet health objectives. The AUH reaches almost four million children, decreasing poverty and increasing childhood well-being in Argentina. In the early years of the program, child poverty decreased by 13.1 percentage points and “12.5% of households receiving the AUH in 2015 were no longer in poverty.”
  3. The Philippines’ Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. Beginning in 2008, the program provides families with grants of P500 ($11) to P1,400 ($32) every month. The grant amount is dependent on the number of children in a household and the grant conditions have ties to education and child health care requirements. A couple of these conditions involve keeping children in school, attending regular pediatric check-ups and females attending check-ups in the case of pregnancy. From the start of the program to 2019, more than 5 million households benefited from Pantawid Pamilyang. The program has “increased the delivery of babies in health facilities by skilled health professionals by 20 percentage points” while raising “elementary school enrollment” among impoverished children by 5% and increasing high school enrollment rates among impoverished children by 7%.
  4. Jamaica’s Program of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH). Since 2002, the Jamaican government has committed to providing cash grants to impoverished families in exchange for children obtaining an attendance rate of 85% or higher in school and on the condition that parents take children younger than 6 years old to doctor’s appointments following a schedule that the Ministry of Health created. PATH benefits 350,000 Jamaicans, improving school attendance and increasing health care visits for children.

The Role of CCTs in Reducing Global Poverty

Conditional cash transfers have gained prominence as a strategy to help impoverished families in real-time while also working to prevent future poverty through the transmission of intergenerational poverty. While CCTs positively impact families in multiple countries, improvements to education and health services must accompany the programs so that children can receive quality education and adequate health care services. Increased participation through CCTs in tandem with improved public services can have a more significant impact on the world’s impoverished than CCTs alone. The combined power of conditional cash transfer programs and public service improvements have the potential to create lasting change globally.

– Anna Ryu
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in Brazil
COVID-19 devastated Brazil. The country lost 600,000 lives to the pandemic. In addition, COVID-19 in Brazil has had significant adverse effects on the economy. With few to no opportunities for work and businesses thrust into bankruptcy, Brazil’s population’s quality of life has also greatly diminished. For example, COVID-19 in Brazil thwarted tourism, subsequently affecting its festive, vibrant Carnaval season. In addition, Brazil is also one of the nations with the most significant disparity in both wealth and class, and COVID-19 in Brazil exasperated those gaps. With COVID-19 bringing such monumental difficulties to Brazil, the prospect of Brazil’s financial stability post COVID seems slim. However, one man’s organization seeks to alleviate some of the hunger-based sufferings from COVID-19 in Brazil.

COVID-19’s Effect on Poverty and Hunger in Brazil

COVID-19 in Brazil has had an undeniably terrible impact on the families living in poverty.  The country had been in a recession since 2014 and had not recovered when COVID-19 hit. That is part of the reason why in 2020, food insecurity threatened approximately 117 million citizens, more than half of the country’s population. That was an increase from 85 million in 2018. That is why the Brazilian government introduced emergency programs to keep families afloat. However, when payments reduced in 2021, even more people started to go hungry. In fact, about 19 million Brazilians have gone hungry in 2021 compared to 10 million in 2018. Brazil’s COVID-induced food insecurity and hunger prompted David Hertz to launch the Gastromotiva Solidarity Kitchen Program.

The Development of Gastromotiva

Local leaders, microentrepreneurs and cooks operate the Gastromotiva Solidarity Kitchens. Community kitchens distribute meals to individuals and families at risk for food insecurity. However, the Gastromotiva Solidarity Kitchen Program does more than just build kitchens and donate food. First, Gastromotiva provides a monthly income to Solidarity Kitchen employees. It also provides guidance in logistics and menu planning. Third, Gastromotiva runs Social Cooking,”  a course that teaches employees how to create businesses, projects and initiatives with social impact. In other words, not only is Gastromotiva providing direct hunger relief, but it also seeks to create more long-term opportunities for financial stability.

Solidarity Kitchen Success

Since launching in 2020, Gastromotiva has opened more than 70 Solidatarity Kitchens in key communities including Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Manaus. The Solidarity Kitchens provide more than 70,000 meals each month. Often, recipients get their only meal each day at a Solidarity Kitchen. As Hertz comments, “Right now half the population in Brazil doesn’t know if they are going to have lunch or dinner. That’s the size of the problem. We are not only feeding those people once a day, we are providing nutrition with dignity that is deserved.”

Post-Pandemic Outlook

Although Hertz created the Gatromotivia Solidarity Kitchen Program as a response to COVID-19 in Brazil, he hopes to continue the program beyond the pandemic. He is developing a new, self-sustaining version of the Solidarity Kitchen, and ultimately, Hertz envisions 1,000 Solidarity Kitchens across Brazil.

– Maia Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in Brazil
The COVID-19 pandemic placed a lot of countries in difficult positions regarding their economies and poverty rates. Those already struggling were unable to make progress, and in some cases, poverty rates even increased due to the stress the pandemic placed on society. Brazil is just one of the many countries facing an increase in poverty today. However, five strategies exist to progress poverty reduction in Brazil.

About Poverty in Brazil

Before the pandemic, Brazil already faced difficulties in the country with many lower-class citizens facing extreme poverty. Since 2014, the poverty rate grew steadily, and by the beginning of 2020, almost 11% of the population of Brazil was living on a statistically meager amount every day. Because of the pandemic, about an estimated 13% of Brazil finds itself in poverty as of March 2021. In order to combat the rising poverty rates throughout Brazil, there are certain steps that the country can take. Here are five strategies to progress poverty reduction in Brazil after the COVID-19 pandemic.

5 Strategies to Progress Poverty Reduction in Brazil

  1. A Rise in Vaccination Rates: So far, the vaccination rates in Brazil have remained quite low in comparison to other advanced countries across the globe. Though infection rates in Brazil have not returned to their pandemic peak, cases still tend to rise after they are brought down and the country opens up again. This has proven to be hard on the economy because communities have to continuously lockdown and then reopen time and time again. With a rise in vaccination rates, however, this would no longer have to be the case. As Deloitte Insights pointed out, “Evidence from the United States, for example, shows that consumer sentiment and willingness to spend has gone up with rising vaccinations.”
  2. American Involvement Can Help: The United States is equipped with resources to aid other countries with global poverty relief. Over the past century, other efforts have proved the U.S.’s ability to deliver effective assistance. Kate Schecter wrote for New Security Beat, saying, “There have been notable successes, such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which started in 2003.” As the U.S. appears to be recovering financially from the pandemic, it could utilize aid resources to assist other countries’ recoveries as well, including Brazil’s.
  3. A Commitment to Investments Within Local Communities: In order for poverty-stricken communities within Brazil to build themselves up financially, an effort to helping communities create jobs and access to resources remains essential. “These investments can both reduce poverty and mitigate out-migration by reducing ‘push factors,’ such as lack of jobs and food scarcity which force people to leave their homes and seek basic subsistence in other countries,” wrote Schecter.
  4. Open the Economy: Brazil has some of the lowest import and export rates among countries with major economies. In 2017, it recorded a less than 30% GDP sum in terms of imports and exports. International Money Fund (IMF) states that “opening up to more trade is essential to improve competitiveness and could give a much-needed fillip to investment.”
  5. Increased COVID-19 Aid from the Government: During the initial economic blow from the pandemic, the government implemented an emergency aid program to help families in need of financial support. Consequently, poverty levels throughout the country took a dramatic decline. This positively impacted the country, but “the aid program is not sustainable and the positive trend in terms of poverty reduction is likely to reverse once the benefit ends,” based on a study from the think-tank Fundação Getúlio Vargas. A better-supported and considered aid program to mitigate the effects of the pandemic could still reduce the poverty rate with careful planning.

Looking Ahead

The recovery process is still ongoing, but as Brazil continues to improve, it can now look forward to poverty reduction throughout the country. Effectively considering and enacting policies throughout Brazil could alleviate the difficulties of the nation’s poor and reduce poverty broadly.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Vaccinating Maré's favelasDespite Brazil’s largely successful vaccine program, it is only now that Maré, Rio de Janeiro’s largest complex of favelas, is experiencing mass vaccination against COVID-19. One thousand professionals vaccinated a significant portion of the population. In schools, “health centers” and other sites, these professionals look to vaccinate upwards of 30,000 people between 18 and 34 throughout the community. Organizer planned to give community members the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was produced by the Fiocruz institute.

Why the Vaccination Drive?

This effort is not permanent and cannot indefinitely supply vaccines. A primary goal of the effort is to conduct a study on the effects of mass vaccinations in such a large complex, which is home to widespread “poverty and violence” and often does not reap the same benefits as wealthier areas of Rio. In Maré, which contains 16 favelas, more than half of the inhabitants are under 30.

Maré has seen about 350 deaths since the pandemic began, but reporting difficulties in many other favelas often means that even official counts are artificially low. The study will utilize genomic sequencing to track variants and will seek to understand vaccine efficacy in the face of the virus evolving. Vaccinating Maré’s favelas stands as a novel move. The study’s uniqueness stems from its size, its target population and its location. Since rapid spreading can lead to a rise in variants, using a favela, rather than a hospital or health unit, is beneficial to research into variants.

Maré’s Social Mobilisation

Along with the program, Maré’s greatest strength in responding to the pandemic has been its social mobilization. Campaigns to reduce the number of deaths work through local media, social networks and word of mouth. The NGO Redes da Maré and the Mare Mobilization Front both work to inform and educate the public.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the COVID-19 in Favelas Unified Dashboard recorded nearly 7,000 COVID-19-related deaths from nearly 100,000 cases. The dashboard focuses on the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. However, cases and deaths are both underreported, and the Unified Dashboard does not cover every favela, meaning that the actual death toll is doubtlessly much greater. For these reasons and more, vaccinating Maré’s favelas remains a key priority.

Understanding the Dashboard

The dashboard began in April 2020 “when grassroots organizations participating in projects organized by Catalytic Communities (CatComm) began to report cases and deaths in virtual meetings of the Sustainable Favela Network (SFN).” CatComm began a reporting initiative through newspapers and word of mouth from community groups themselves. Other methods included individual outreach for data collection, outreach to local health clinics or through WhatsApp, and analysis of available data when accessible.

The initiative gained traction because of a catalyzing unwillingness by the government to “survey favelas.” The dashboard was officially launched on July 7, 2020, according to its website, and has grown with each new press conference surrounding its progress. Campaigns like #VacinaPraFavelaJá have arisen to promote vaccination and have even enlisted figures like cartoonist Carlos Latuff.

Looking Forward

While the initiation of the vaccine process is a welcome one to many inhabitants of Maré, it has begun only after countless deaths and governmental neglect. The widespread nature and varied methods of the Unified Dashboard have meanwhile shown how collective action can keep communities afloat even in the absence of sufficient governmental intervention. Moreover, with strong community engagement and growing governmental support, vaccinating Maré’s favelas could lead to a more secure and safe future in due time.

Augustus Bambridge-Sutton
Photo: Unsplash

Higher Education in BrazilBrazil has a population of more than 211 million, but only 18% of adults between 25 and 64 years old have acquired an academic degree. Brazil has both private and public (federal, state and municipal) higher education institutions (HEIs) classified into four main categories: universities, colleges, university centers and federal institutes. Universities are the most complex institutions as they incorporate not only regular learning activities but also scientific research and extension programs. As these six facts about higher education in Brazil illustrate, Brazil’s higher education system faces some challenges, but it also demonstrates a great history of success and potential for improvement.

6 Facts About Higher Education in Brazil

  1. Government spending in public higher education in Brazil is low. The spending in public higher education institutions increased by 19% between 2010 and 2016, but spending per student was still below the OECD member countries’ average in 2016. In 2021, a substantial budget cut is threatening federal universities’ operations. The new budget is almost the same as it was 17 years ago when the number of students was half of the current number. The low budget affects the payment of utility expenses and forces the universities to cut financial aid to low-income students and research funding.
  2. Most bachelor’s students attend private higher education institutions. Although federal and state universities in Brazil are tuition-free, more than 75% of students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs attend private institutions. According to the 2019 census, there were more than 16.4 million admission spots that year, 94.9% at private and only 5.1% at public HEIs. Since 1999, programs, such as FIES (Student Financing Fund), finance tuition fees and allow students to start paying their loans after graduation, facilitating the access of students to private institutions. However, a study on student loan schemes in Brazil found out through simulations that there is an unsustainable repayment burden for many graduates. The study also suggested some possible solutions to the problem, such as “imposing a zero-interest rate whilst students are at higher education and whilst debtors are below the first tax threshold.”
  3. Social quotas facilitate impoverished people’s access to federal universities. In the last 15 years, 28 million people in Brazil transitioned out of poverty, but the system still favors the wealthy: the richest 10% of the population accounted for 61% of economic growth between 2001 and 2015. Business Insider suggests that federal universities’ admission systems favor this small portion of Brazilians who can afford private high schools where they have better opportunities of learning and, consequently, are more likely to succeed in the competitive public universities’ entrance exams. In 2012, President Dilma Rousseff signed a law that requires federal universities to reserve half of their admission spots for public high school graduates. Besides, half of the spots for public high school graduates go to people with a family income of less than or equal to one and a half of the minimum monthly wage per capita. ANDIFES’ surveys show that these people represented 70.2% of the undergraduates in 2018 compared to 44.3% in 1996 when the first survey first occurred.
  4. Racial quotas help to reduce the racial achievement and wealth gap. The law that emerged in 2012 to help public high school graduates and low-income students also guarantees that a percentage of federal universities’ admission spots go to those of African descent and indigenous people. This percentage varies according to their number in each state. Racial quota supporters see this law as an attempt to pay a historical debt with these groups and reduce inequality. Slavery was legal in Brazil until 1888 and left a legacy of profound racial inequality. About 125 years later, individuals of African descent earned “little over half of what white Brazilians did” and represented less than 30% of the country’s job market. In 2019, they represented more than half of higher education students in public institutions for the first time.
  5. Brazil’s public universities play a significant role in science production. Between 2013 and 2018, Brazil ranked 13th in the world in terms of its output of research papers with 280,912 papers added to the Web of Science. Fifteen public universities were responsible to produce more than 60% of this research output. Academic research benefits the world as a reliable source of information and insights that contribute to social improvements, such as the development of new technologies. The importance of university research is even more evident in the context of a pandemic. One example is the case of the Brazilian scientist Jaqueline Goes de Jesus who works at one of Universidade de São Paulo’s institutes and led the sequencing of the genome of a COVID-19 variant. Jaqueline’s accomplishment was all over the news and she even had a Barbie doll modeled after her as a recognition of her work.
  6. Brazil’s higher education institutions have international recognition. Seven of Brazil’s higher education institutions are among the top 10 Latin American universities in the 2021 Times Higher Education (THE) rankings. Universidade de São Paulo, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais and PUC-Rio are examples of a state, a federal and a private university in the top 10, respectively. Universidade de São Paulo is the oldest university in Brazil, being “responsible for around 20% of all Brazilian academic output.” THE evaluates universities in the Latin American and Caribbean regions within five areas including teaching, research, research citations, international vision and industry investment.

Looking Ahead

Higher education institutions are like gardens in which good ideas flourish when they receive the right amount of nutrition. It is worth noticing that both private and public Brazilian HEIs excel among Latin American institutions. While budget cuts threaten the future of public universities in Brazil, they do not erase their history of research contributions to the global scientific community. Besides, affirmative actions play an important role in the democratization of access to Brazil’s public institutions and impact society as a whole. These six facts about higher education in Brazil give an idea of how much there is to learn about this country’s higher education system, which is both a matter of concern and a valuable source of national pride.

– Iasmine Oliveira
Photo: Flickr

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Hunger In BrazilBrazil, among other countries, has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, suffering one of the highest death tolls in the world at 556,834 people as of August 2021. However, its infection rates are decreasing. The country had 247,830 confirmed cases as of the week of July 26 and more than 133,000,000 vaccine doses administered as of August: a marked improvement from earlier on in the pandemic. Nonetheless, one still-worsening effect of the pandemic in Brazil is hunger.

Hunger in Brazil

Hunger existed in Brazil long before COVID-19 reached the South American nation, where inequality has fueled high rates of poverty and food insecurity. In 2011, despite a relatively high GDP of $10,900 per capita, roughly 16 million Brazilians lived in extreme poverty, and many lacked the income to support an adequate diet.

However, the U.N. World Food Programme’s 2020 Hunger Map, which displays data from 2017-2019, showed positive progress in Brazil. Less than 2.5% of the total population was undernourished, a rate among the lowest in the world.

COVID-19 Worsens Hunger in Brazil

While the U.N. statistics demonstrate positive trends, COVID-19 has exacerbated food insecurity by widening preexisting inequalities in Brazil’s population. For example, the pandemic caused prices of basic food products to increase. Cooking oils, rice and other diet essentials became so expensive that they were essentially impossible to purchase for many families in Brazil. The New York Times pointed out that as of April 2021, a kilogram of rice sold for twice as much as before the pandemic, and cooking oil tripled in price in the same period.

High unemployment rates caused by the pandemic combined with high food prices further increased the rates of hunger. In an interview with Reuters, unemployed worker Rosana de Paula describes the situation among the unemployed. Because of a lack of credit and little to no savings, the sudden disappearance of income from pandemic-related unemployment is devastating, leaving “no way to pay for food,” according to de Paula.

Now, more than a year into the pandemic and with hunger continually worsening in Brazil, the country is back in the “yellow zone” on the U.N.’s Hunger Map. In an interview with The New Humanitarian, the Director of the Center of Excellence Against Hunger said increasing hunger has raised the alarm in Brazil. More than 19 million people, or 9% of the population, are currently food insecure.

Ways the World is Helping Brazil

Despite the hardships the pandemic has created for many Brazilian families, NGOs and other grassroots campaigns have stepped in to alleviate the hunger crisis. Food campaigns across the country have offered support and resources, distributing meals to millions of Brazilian families. Anyone worldwide can donate to these anti-hunger campaigns to help curb the high demand for food and other necessities that the pandemic has exacerbated.

Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

Brazil's Quilombola communitiesBrazil’s Quilombola communities consist of Africans and Afro-descended people who escaped slavery and established remote mountain communities called quilombos. In 2020, these communities were spread across Brazil and numbered close to 6,000 in total. Brazil brought in more than four million slaves from Africa over the course of its colonial history, only ending the practice when Brazil became the last country in the Americas to ban slavery in 1888. Unfortunately, the legacy of slavery persists as many descendants of enslaved people still live in poverty. Brazil’s Quilombola communities suffer a poverty rate nearly three times that of the country as a whole — 75% compared with about 25% for the country overall, according to 2018 government data.

The Inter-American Foundation in Brazil

The Inter-American Foundation (IAF) began in 1969, giving grants to grassroots projects working to improve poverty, sustainability, resource management, entrepreneurial skills, leadership, civil rights and more across Latin America and the Caribbean. The IAF currently has 343 active projects across 26 countries, investing more than $100 million in these development initiatives.

Brazil is a large beneficiary of IAF grants, with 27 active projects running as of July 2021. Brazil received its first IAF grant in 1972. IAF investment in these projects totals about $7 million and has directly benefited more than 25,700 people in Brazil. The projects work in a variety of areas, from fighting food insecurity and poverty to providing housing and job training to Venezuelan refugees.

AQUIPP and Quilombola Communities

One of the IAF’s many active projects in Brazil is a grant given to the Associação Quilombola do Povoado Patioba (AQUIPP). AQUIPP fulfills a variety of needs for Brazil’s Quilombola communities, especially when it comes to improving the lives of youth. The association provides educational workshops for young Quilombola people that focus on improving their chances of finding employment, leadership roles in the face of discrimination and strengthening their relationships with their Afro-Brazilian heritage. AQUIPP hopes that these young people will go on to become ambassadors outside their local communities, educating others in Brazil and around the world about the importance of Quilombola culture and practices.

AQUIPP and other Quilombola organizations also work in the political and health sectors. As part of their advocacy work on behalf of the Quilombola people, the organizations work with local and national governments to fight discrimination in schools and other public spaces and to protect Quilombola communities’ land rights. In the health sector, AQUIPP plays a key role in providing masks and other personal protective equipment as well as educational information about protection from COVID-19.

The IAF has been supporting AQUIPP’s work in Brazil since 2017. The IAF reports that the efforts of AQUIPP directly benefit 200 people and indirectly benefit an additional 1,000.

Preserving the Future of Quilombola Communities

Brazil’s Quilombola communities remain strong despite centuries of persecution and discrimination both before and after the abolition of slavery in Brazil. Their vibrant Afro-Brazilian traditions of music, dance, clothing, agricultural systems, languages and more, have survived against the odds.

Programs like AQUIPP help amplify Quilombola voices and fight devastatingly high poverty rates in Quilombola communities. With the help of AQUIPP and the IAF’s funding, young Quilombola people can gain access to the education and training they need to acquire well-paying jobs and rise out of poverty.

Julia Welp

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Brazil’s Recent Drought Impacts Coffee and Orange ProductionBrazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee and oranges. The country produces around a third of the world’s coffee and orange supply. In addition, Brazil exports the largest amount of Arabica coffee beans and orange juice. However, with the recent drought in Brazil, the crops that rely on irrigation, such as orange trees and coffee plants, are suffering. Coffee and orange production is declining, impacting the supply chain of both products around the world and putting a heavy burden on Brazilian farmers.

Impact on Coffee and Orange Crops

Brazil is currently facing one of the worst droughts in the country’s history. The agricultural regions in Brazil, particularly the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, are generally tropical, but they are suffering from dry soil and scarce water reservoirs. Brazilian farmers started turning on irrigation systems for orange and coffee crops early, in fear of the lack of rainfall and limited water reservoirs with the dry season approaching. However, coffee production is taking even more of a hit due to 2021 being a “limited year.” Coffee production runs on a biennial cycle, meaning while there will be a higher production of coffee during one year, the next year will yield a lower amount of coffee from the same trees.

This year’s crop production indicates that if the drought continues, it will severely impact the orange and coffee supply. The past season’s orange production decreased by 31% in comparison to the last season and estimates project that coffee production for the 2021-2022 crop cycle will drop by the same percentage. More specifically, Arabica coffee may see a decline in production of “between 32.4% and 39.1%.” With coffee trees not receiving enough moisture and orange groves experiencing ripeness inconsistencies, coffee and orange production is decreasing.

Overall Consequences of Drought

With the lack of coffee and orange production, the supply of these crops is limited. Limited supply and high demand are driving up the prices of both products, particularly coffee. The prices going up for these popular crops indicates that the products will be more inaccessible due to expensive price points.  Already, wholesale coffee prices have surged at a record high in comparison to recent years; the rate for Arabica coffee reached almost $1.70 per pound this year, which is a 60% increase from 2020. Along with higher coffee price points, orange prices are expected to rise and there may be an orange juice shortage.

Overall, Brazil is a large agricultural hub, not only producing coffee and oranges but also other vital crops, such as sugar cane and corn. Therefore, “the drought is also hurting key farming states, at a time when the agricultural sector has been driving Brazil’s economic recovery, with growth of 5.7% in the first quarter.” However, the drought not only affects the supply chain but also the farmers themselves. Farmers are selling coffee for very low prices and have had to even renegotiate prices with traders. The drought negatively affects everyone in the supply chain, however, farmers and their families depend on the income they get from selling crops.

The MAIS Program Provides a Solution

While there is no solution to directly combat the drought in Brazil, there are organizations that help farmers with agricultural technology and even an organization that helps farmers when it comes to climate crises. The MAIS Program uses different strategies in order “to help farmers plan for drought-intensive periods.” Some of its initiatives include modules with the ability to provide income to farmers with technical assistance. The organization provides solutions to farmers, including using the Opuntia-ficus cactus “as a substitute for corn and a biophysical water and food storage system” and planting drought-resistant trees. This program is designed to help farmers adapt to changes in weather and ensure food security in Brazil.

Every dollar that goes into the program generates $7 in the Jacuipe Basin of Brazil, among other impacts. Programs like MAIS help farmers deal with the impact of weather on crops, including the drought in Brazil that is affecting coffee and orange production.

– Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Pixabay