Brazil leads fight against hunger

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 17 October 2009 12:49 GMT

BOGOTA (AlertNet) - Brazil has made great strides in combating child malnutrition, cutting the number of children suffering from hunger by 73 percent in six years, according to the anti-poverty organisation Action Aid.

A recent study published by the aid agency, which evaluates progress made on reducing child malnutrition, investment in agriculture, and steps taken by governments to end hunger, ranks Brazil top among 29 developing nations surveyed.

The report highlights the success of social policies implemented by the Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva over his seven-year tenure to address hunger.

Â?President Lula has demonstrated that great advances in hunger reduction can be made in a very short time, if political will exists,Â? the report said.

Under the governmentÂ?s Zero Hunger programme introduced in 2003, which brings together several ministries and initiatives, 44 million Brazilians have received better access to clean water and food, through community kitchens, free school meals and food banks. BrazilÂ?s National School Lunch programme offers at least one good-quality meal a day in public schools to 37 million children.

A nationwide $5.5 billion cash transfer scheme, known as Â?Family GrantÂ? gives over 12 million poor families stipends on condition they send their children to school. In addition to improving school enrolment rates, the scheme has allowed families to spend more money on staple foods and improve their diet.

Â?The main lesson is the importance of integrating and aligning social policies of education, food security, health, housing, sanitation, job and land to achieve better and long-lasting results to reduce poverty,Â? Celso Marcatto, a coordinator for ActionAid in Brazil, told AlertNet.

In recent years, civil society groups in Brazil have played an important role in putting pressure on the government to make eradicating hunger a national priority, leading to the creation of the National Council for Food Security and Nutrition where civil society representatives have a leading voice.

But reducing hunger among landless labourers and small farmers in Brazil, particularly those belonging to indigenous and black populations, still remains a major challenge.

Â?They have been eclipsed by the focus on large-scale, export-orientated agriculture,Â? the report said.

The Brazilian government also needs to Â?go much furtherÂ? in tackling unequal land distribution and implement land reforms that would benefit small landowners, the report says.

Â?The Brazilian huge land concentration, for example, is still shameful,Â? said Action AidÂ?s Marcatto.

BrazilÂ?s drive to expand its important biofuel industry also threatens the livelihoods of small farmers as more agricultural land is taken over to plant crops such as sugar cane that produces ethanol, a biofuel alternative to gasoline.

Â?It is imperative that small family farmers are also protected from the expansion of BrazilÂ?s massive industrial agrofuels programmes,Â? the report said.

Other countries in the region are struggling to ensure their citizens intake more than the minimum 2,000 calories a day, as recommended by the United Nations.

Haiti ranks third from bottom among Action AidÂ?s list of 29 developing nations, with half of the countryÂ?s population going hungry every day.

A combination of factors means hunger across the world is set to increase.

Â?Food prices remain stubbornly high in developing countries, the global recession is hitting jobs and incomes, and climate change is battering rain-fed agriculture,Â? the study said. Â?The worst is yet to come.Â?

Leaders of developing nations are being urged to invest more in sustainable agricultural development and support small farmers, especially women, by providing loans and subsidies.

Action Aid is also calling on donor countries at the World Food Summit next month in Rome to pledge an additional $23 billion a year to boost agricultural production and social programmes.

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are clear lessons to be drawn from our top-performing countries,Â? said Anne Jellema, Action AidÂ?s policy director. Â?Massive and urgent support to poor farmers, and social welfare programmes for vulnerable groups, are needed now to reverse growing global hunger.Â?

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