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Brazil: ‘Zero Hunger’ program

November 17th, 2009
People gather rubbish to re-sell from a giant rubbish dump in Rio

People gather rubbish to re-sell from a giant rubbish dump in Rio

As the United Nations food agency meets in Rome to discuss ways to combat global hunger, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacia Lula da Silva can tout the success of his country’s “Zero Hunger” program.

While the country still faces major challenges, including massive economic disparities, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates malnutrition has been reduced by 73 percent in the last six years.

According to the organization, which opened a three-day meeting in Rome on Monday, Brazil has also managed to reduce infant mortality by 45 percent in the same period.

The “Zero Hunger” program began in 2003, in the early days of Lula’s presidency, and combines dozens of social programs ranging from the construction of water tanks in dry regions to agricultural loans and food aid.

Key to the efforts has been the “Family Purse” program, which has been adopted in several African and Latin American countries.

The program allots 55 dollars a month to poor families on the condition their children go to school, and distributes food to some 37 million children while they are at school.

Today, some 12.4 million families are part of the Family Purse program, around a quarter of the country’s 190 million residents.

Brazil’s efforts have won praise from the FAO and interest from abroad.

“We hope that at the end of the FAO summit, when the presidents and prime ministers return to their home countries, they will launch their own ‘Zero Hunger’ programs and help other countries do the same,” said Andrew Macmillan, former director of the FAO’s operations department.

“Lula shows other governments that, with political engagement, it is possible to obtain rapid progress with social programs and support for small agriculture,” he told AFP.

“Between 2003 and 2008, the proportion of people living in poverty in Brazil has gone from 28 percent to 16 percent. That means that 19.3 million people have moved out of poverty,” said Marcelo Neri, head of the Center for Social policies at the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

Neri cites several key factors that have contributed, including “four consecutive presidential terms with good economic and social policies and the universalization of access to education and the stabilization of the economy in the 1990s.”

“In the last six years, we have seen economic growth and a rise in the minimum wage, 8.5 million formal jobs have been created and we have had a major expansion of social programs,” he added.

However, Brazil still faces massive structural problems including a dearth of quality training and job creation in the country’s poorest areas, according to Roberto Nascimento, a social studies specialist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.

Brazil is a massive food producer and one of the few countries in the world with large areas of arable land, but it remains top of the list of nations with huge wealth gaps, prompting criticism from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter.

Income disparity remains staggering, with figures from the Center for Economic Studies showing that a rich Brazilian family could spend in three days what a poor family would spend in a year.

The center estimates it could take 20 years to reach more equal income levels.

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