COVID-19 amplifies dismantling of food security policies in Brazil

Stéphane Guéneau and Paulo Niederle

Adopted in 2003, the Zero Hunger (FomeZero) programme has enabled thousands of Brazilian families to have regular access to a sufficient quantity and quality of food. Schemes such as the National School Feeding Programme (NSFP) have improved food security for children, providing access to food for the poorest and setting standards for the provision of healthy meals. Since 2009, the NSFP has required the public purchase of products from family farming, accounting for 30% of school feeding supplies. For many poor Brazilian families, school does not only mean education, it also represents the possibility for children to have access to a complete and balanced meal per day. This opportunity is now blocked due to the decision of local governments to close schools in order to combat Covid19. In order to compensate for this loss, local public action has been organized through the mobilization of national food stocks and the distribution of basic food baskets. However, given the recent political choices made by the Bolsonaro administration, these emergency food aid policies have their limits. In July 2019, the President of the Republic denied any food security problems in Brazil, despite an FAO report indicating that 5.2 million Brazilians were suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition. And if Jair Bolsonaro recently stated that “hunger kills more than the virus,” it was more to justify his policy of limiting social isolation and his desire to resume economic activity than to reflect a genuine concern for food security. One of the first measures he adopted when he took office in 2019 was to abolish the National Council for Food and Nutritional Security (CONSEA), the main institution in charge of food security and responsible for monitoring the Zero Hunger programme. Under his mandate, the government proposed to privatize 27 of the 92 storage units of the National Supply Company (Conab), which were eventually closed. Public stocks of the main products that make up the Brazilian diet, such as beans, maize and rice, are largely insufficient to meet the food emergency. Faced with growing demand from consumers who are starting to stockpile products for fear of shortages, the prices of some products such as beans are rising. The danger of a rapidly emerging large-scale food crisis led the federal government, on 7 April 2020, to amend the law in order to authorize the immediate distribution of foodstuffs acquired with the financial means of the NSFP to the parents of schoolchildren. The Food Acquisition Programme (FAP), another public procurement measure that was virtually abandoned last year, was rehabilitated through the announcement on 8 April 2020 by the Minister of Agriculture of an allocation of R$500 million (about 100 million euros) to purchase food produced by family farmers. Will these measures be sufficient to build up stocks and avoid food insecurity in cities where security problems are likely to be most acute? A major challenge is their implementation, as the previously existing social support structure has been weakened by recent government action. The cooperatives and farmers’ associations that used to manage the NSFP and the FAP are struggling to survive. However, some of them have proven to be fundamental to food distribution in times of pandemic, including new home delivery systems. Will the government recognize that these are fundamental actors in ensuring the long-term food security of the population? Reposted from with permission

Article by: Stéphane Guéneau (Cirad), Paulo Niederle (UFRGS)

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