This Al Jazeera opinion piece by UN University research associate Kei Otsuki draws a compelling picture about how Brazil has established itself as a role model in becoming one of the first (so-called) developing countries to create a sustainable and local food procurement system for its schools. In doing so, it has met four internationally-set goals of such systems:
- Creating a market for small-scale farmers;
- Changing market structures so that a larger proportion of the market price goes to local farmers;
- Promoting a stronger role for local farmers in the supply chain through reducing the relevance of intermediaries in the purchasing process; and
- Ensuring that small-scale farmers produce a sufficient supply of good-quality products to enable them to respond to market demand.
How did it get there?
The history of Brazilian national school feeding programmes is complicated – being first regional, then centralized, then decentralized again – but consistently characterized by poor institutional coordination, precarious distribution systems which meant that many schools never received any food, and a lack in funding. This all changed, however, with the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) Project of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula)’s Worker’s Party in 2003. The government allocated a whopping 14% of the country’s GDP to the Ministry of Social Development that was tasked to administer the program.
The Project was one of the new government’s main strategies to combat hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty in the country, and benefited roughly 11 million families in 2006 through 30 complementary programs and a variety of measures. One of its main components are income transfers conditional on child school attendance and participation in immunization and heath check-ups.
The program also aids small-scale family farmers in affording new inputs and supports the creation of local food security boards that would make important decisions on how to improve municipal food security together. The demand for products from local farms are additionally supported by the creation of government-financed food banks – supported family farms and low-income consumers alike.
Another important part of the Project was however the immense reallocation of resources to school food procurement budgets (1.5 billion Brazilian real (BRL) (US$820 million) in 2006) and the way this money was being spent. The doubling of funds per participant meant that the 36.3 million Brazilian children attending public school had significantly better access to a high-quality meal in their school or day care. Direct purchasing from local farmers had first been promoted by the government and later enshrined in law, since as of 2009 municipal governments are obliged to use at least 30% of their food procurement budget on purchases of local produce from family-based farmers.
Furthermore, a campaign introduced Brazilians to the concept of a “food culture” (cultura alimentar) and “food sovereignty” through encouraging the consumption of local fruit, vegetables and meat. The program was also designed to pay particular attention to the unique diet needs of indigenous populations and Quilombo communities in order to respect their own food culture and habits.
The schools are actively involved in determining where their food comes from – about half of all municipalities have School Feeding Committees (Conselhos de Alimentacao Escolar, or CAEs) made up by local officials, parents, and teachers’ associations, which are responsible for organizing local food procurement that reflects the tastes and wishes of both children and their parents. Some schools have even established school or community gardens to engage students in growing the food they will later eat.
The Al Jazeera article then goes on to describe a case study of the municipality of Campinas in the state of Sao Paulo – it’s a really interesting read and I can only recommend it! It is extraordinary to see how much can get done through committed government involvement and earmarked funds – and it’s a stark reminder that food security has nothing to do with food production (Brazil is the world’s third-largest producer of maize, and second-largest of soybeans and dry beans) and everything with economic access.
Bonus: If you want to get a lot more information on Fome Zero, there is a 300-page book online that was published by the FAO and gives both background and evaluation insights! Plus another review of the program, this time by the WFP, here.