After facing difficulties in the last decade, Brazil hopes to reinvigorate its fight against food insecurity by building on the progress made in the early 21st century. In 2018, 36.7% of households experienced food insecurity. At the end of 2022, the rate of households with food insecurity increased to 58.7%. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity rose again, affecting 33.1 million Brazilians.
However, the fight against hunger in Brazil is not without hope. In November 2022, President Lula da Silva proposed the Bolsa Familia program, which, as part of the government’s Zero Hunger strategy, achieved a 31% reduction in childhood malnutrition from 2003 to 2013. What’s more, the recent successes of financial institutions such as the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) demonstrate progression in fighting hunger despite the challenging socio-economic conditions of today.

Difficulties Facing Brazil

Brazil suffers from extreme levels of inequality. More than 50% of the population experiences some sort of food insecurity. This is despite it being the world’s fourth-biggest producer of grain and the biggest producer of beef.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 only increased the burden on a fragile health system and poor national living conditions, which include the lack of access to water and basic sanitation. All of this limits the biological use of nutrients and puts people at risk of developing malnutrition.

21st-Century Victories in the Fight Against Food Insecurity

From 2003 to 2014, the Zero Hunger strategy conducted by the federal government formed public infrastructures, such as Public Infrastructure for Food and Nutrition Security (EPSAN), with the goal of supporting the Human Right to Adequate Food. In 2010, the country’s Constitution made this right fundamentally guaranteed. While other countries in the Americas offer similar programs, most are not publicly institutionalized. This is a distinction often accused of negating public involvement.

Due to the expansion of facilities such as EPSAN, by 2020, 87 public food banks, 104 popular restaurants and 189 community kitchens were in operation in Brazil. In addition to this, Lula da Silva’s original Bolsa Familia, or family allowance, gave struggling families a cash transfer. This was highly successful in increasing food security. The Zero Hunger program helped 20 million people escape poverty. Furthermore, 90% of Lula da Silva’s Bolsa Familia beneficiaries felt their access to food improved.

A Look Ahead

With the return of Lula da Silva’s Bolsa Familia program, Brazil’s most impoverished families can receive 600 Real (about $120) a month for the next four years. This is a total of 198 billion Real a year paid by the government. During parliamentary negotiations, Lula da Silva personally engaged himself to pass the social program, showing his commitment to the cause. Overall, Brazil continues to show that, despite facing challenging trends and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is room for progress and positive results in the fight against food insecurity.
Gabriel Gathercole

Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in Brazil
Despite being the third largest exporter of agricultural commodities, Brazil is now suffering a food crisis caused by inflation. In 2022, inflation triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine exacerbated hunger in Brazil. The inflation rate in Brazil stood at 13.9% in the middle of 2022, according to the World Bank. According to a Brazilian press article by correspondent Anne Vigna in June 2022, 33.1 million Brazilians endure hunger and 30% of families are at risk of food shortages. Furthermore, the sanctions against Russia have affected the supply of fertilizers, which are essential to Brazilian agriculture and food production. When vital products are restricted and the exports-imports are reduced, the prices go up. Social Good Brazil and the World Food Programme (WFP) Centre of Excellence are committed to addressing food insecurity in Brazil.

“Regarding inflation [in Brazil], consumer prices remain high, with increases spread among several components and continue to be more persistent than anticipated. Over the 12-month period ended in July [2022], consumer inflation reached 10.1%,” said Central Bank of Brazil Governor Roberto Campos Neto in an interview with Global Finance on September 27, 2022.

Inflation in Brazil: Food Shortage

“Hiking prices lead to loss of purchasing power of households and food insecurity. In Brazil, the costs of food increased by 13.43[%] in the 12 months to August 2022,” the World Bank reports. In 2022, severe food insecurity in Brazil stood at 9%, but in 2022, severe food insecurity has risen to 15.5%.

According to Campos Neto, “disruptions in supply chains generated by COVID-19 and in energy and food markets caused by the war in Ukraine, may lead to higher or more persistent inflation and more aggressive monetary policy tightening in major economies.” Campos Neto explains that long periods of high inflation may put countries at risk of economic deceleration.

Brazil is responsible for 8% of fertilizer consumption worldwide and is the “world’s fourth-largest fertilizer importer,” according to Farmdocdaily. Roughly one-fifth of these imports come from Russia. As a result of sanctions applied against Russia, Brazil now suffers from a lack of fertilizers, such as phosphorous and nitrogen, which are essential for crops. According to an article by Brazilian journalist Julio Bravo in May 2022, the cost of fertilizer per ton rose rapidly from $231.05 to $524.42 in only 12 months.

Impact on the Poor

Increased prices of goods reduce the purchasing power of low-income families and raise food insecurity while increasing rates of poverty. The national report “Olhe para a fome,” created by Rede Penssan (The Brazilian Network of Research on Sovereignty and Food and Nutritional Security) and partners, gathered data between November 2021 and April 2022 that presents a grim situation. According to the report, in 2022, 33.1 million Brazilians face severe levels of food insecurity, which equates to 15.5% of the population. The second National Study on Food Insecurity in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Brazil showed that 58.7% of Brazilians suffer from some level of food insecurity in 2022.

During the peak of the pandemic, local supermarkets in Brazil began to sell animal bones and leftovers to people in desperate need of food. Some people had to scrummage in supermarket rubbish bins in search of discarded food. Brazilian Sandra Maria de Freitas told BBC News Brazil in 2022: “I wake up at 4 a.m. every day, take my handcart and come to wait for the rubbish truck at this same place… where I live.”

Fighting Against Hunger

The World Food Programme (WFP) Centre of Excellence came about as a partnership developed in 2011 between the Brazilian government and the WFP to address hunger in several countries, including Brazil. The Center of Excellence focuses on school feeding programs, research, working with smallholder farmers and more.

In terms of the WFP’s school feeding initiatives, in 2020, a total of “15 million schoolchildren received nutritious meals and snacks from WFP.” Providing support to 65 countries’ school feeding programs, WFP helped another 39 million children with nutritional support.

Social Good Brazil is an NGO that raises funds via a crowdfunding U.S. platform called GlobalGiving. Social Good Brazil raised $1,108 for the project called Fight Hunger in Brazil Using Food Waste. In essence, the project aimed to reduce food waste by redistributing wasted but good food to fulfill the food and nutrition needs of vulnerable citizens. The project has the potential of helping 52 million Brazilians suffering from food insecurity.

Despite the struggle against inflation, organizations are stepping up to continue the fight against food insecurity in Brazil.

– Olga Petrovska
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurities Decrease Around Brazil
Brazil is the largest country in South America. It also has the largest economy, which has been a key contributor to agriculture and business all over Latin America. Even with improvements in income distribution, poverty remains widespread, as income inequality remains an unsolved issue at the root of rural poverty. Thirty-five percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day, which is a reason for the food insecurity in Brazil. Additionally, 19 percent of Brazil’s population lives in rural areas, which means that Brazil has 18 million poor rural people. Meanwhile, the country’s northeast region has the single largest concentration of rural poverty in Latin America. In this region alone, 58 percent of the total population and 67 percent of the rural population live in poverty.

Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is an important subtopic coinciding with global poverty. When someone is food insecure, it means that they lack access to enough safe and nutritious food to give them the growth and development necessary to be active and in good health. Food insecurity might include a lack of resources or availability altogether.

The Food and Agriculture Organization has implemented the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) which explains the differences between the following categories:

  • Food Security to Mild Food Insecurity is uncertainty regarding the ability to obtain food.
  • Moderate Food Insecurity is the reduced quality and/or quantity of food, as well as uncertainty about how to obtain food due to little or no money or other resources. Moderate food insecurity can also lead to malnutrition. An example of this is stunting in children, which is where they do not have adequate nutrition for necessary growth and physical development. Micronutrient deficiencies are another hazard where children do not receive enough nourishment to give them the proper nutrients they require for growth.
  • Severe Food Insecurity is when one has simply run out of food, and at the most, has gone a number of days without eating.

How Fome Zero Has Decreased Food Insecurity

Brazil, which is the largest country in South America, has been able to combat food insecurity, along with poverty, through government spending on social welfare programs. For instance, one way that poverty and food insecurities have decreased around Brazil is through Fome Zero or Zero Hunger. It launched in 2003 under President Lul da Silva and has been successful in leading the nation out of poverty and improving its food security conditions. Fome Zero has been able to provide meals that have nutritious value and can support the poor’s overall health in order to combat food insecurity in Brazil.

Stunting and Food Insecurity

From the standpoint of public policy, the program has also implemented other ways of protection for those under the poverty line. These include providing not only meals and overall health improvement but also education reform, food production, health services, water, sanitation services and the prevention of growth stunting in children under the age of 5. Stunting has resulted in malnutrition, impaired cognitive ability and declining school performance later on in their lives. With Fome Zero as a premiere social-welfare program, stunting has also declined by almost 20 percent in the last quarter-century. From 1996 to 2007, stunting reduced by half from 14 percent to 7 percent.

These improvements happened because of optimal breastfeeding practices, ensuring a child’s healthy growth and development. Initiating breastfeeding for six months provides protection against gastrointestinal infections, which can lead to severe nutrient depletion, causing the process of stunting to begin. Setting a daily diet and schedule for children, as well as diversity in diet, has improved their health and overall growth.

Stunting results from a household, environmental, socioeconomic and cultural standpoint that requires that interventions for better nutrition integrate in conjunction with nutrition-sensitive interventions. One example is that one can prevent infections by hand-washing with soap, the success of which depends on behavior change to adopt the practice, the availability of safe water and sanitation needs and the affordability of personal hygiene products. Available high-quality foods and affordability of nutrient-rich foods will affect a family’s ability to provide healthier foods to prevent stunting.

Bolsa Familia

Another program that da Silva started in 2003 is Bolsa Familia, or Family Allowance, which has helped decrease poverty and food insecurity in Brazil. The conditional cash transfer program supplies low-income families with a minimum level of income. However, there are two stipulations that go with the deal: their children must attend school daily and they must schedule doctor’s appointments in order to receive aid from the government. More than 20 percent of Brazil’s global domestic program went towards education, health care and protection for all low-income families. From 2003 to 2013, the extreme poverty line population has decreased from 9.7 percent to 4.3, with Bolsa Familia reaching 14 million households, equaling 50 million people. As such, many consider the program to be the most successful in the world.

More than 50 million people receive payments from the program. This depends on family earnings that range from $14 to $140, whether people work part-time or full-time, as well as the number of dependents. As the largest conditional cash transfer in the world, Bolsa Familia reaches more than a quarter of the nation’s population and has lifted more than half out of poverty.

BF has also started a trend globally that has expanded conditional cash transfer programs, alongside Latin America, where over 40 countries have adopted this model to aid those on the poverty line and who are food insecure. Brazil’s next step to put a halt to poverty included the Brazil Learning Initiative for a World without Poverty (WWP), launched in partnership with the Ministry of Social Development, Ipea and UNDP’s International Policy Center in 2013. The Initiative helped support continuous innovation.

The endgame of these program developments is to sustain, if not overachieve, in providing aid to families in Brazil. The levels of success and vast improvements of these programs have helped the country come close to eradicating food insecurity in Brazil, as well as poverty.

Tom Cintula
Photo: Flickr