The Brazil Without Hunger program

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By JEAN MARC VON DER WEID*

The creation of a state structure to deal in an integrated way with the food problem in all its dimensions would be highly recommended.vel

Introduction – the sum of the parts does not necessarily make a whole

Governments, of all colors, have a habit of formulating large programs through the artifice of bringing together ongoing public actions, spread across several ministries, under a new “hat” and a good dose of publicity.

From what I could deduce by reading the four pages (in small print) of President Lula's decree in December 2023, establishing the National Food Supply Policy and providing for the National Food Supply Plan and the 50 pages of the Brazil Without Hunger Plan (PBSF ), we are facing a repetition of this approach.

22 ministries, the General Secretariat of the Presidency and the Civil House participated in the preparation of the Brazil Without Hunger Plan, represented by 127 managers and technicians after 40 meetings, including dozens of interlocutors from civil society. The Brazil Without Hunger Plan is organized into three axes and each of them presents several challenges and activities to be promoted (financed) by multiple government entities. In each of the axes and challenges we find elements of analysis that seek to justify the action proposals.

I will not analyze the Brazil Without Hunger Plan proposal in detail, which would be tiring and probably innocuous, but I want to point out some crucial shortcomings in this planning.

What are the causes of the Brazilian food crisis highlighted in the PBSF?

The Brazil Without Hunger Plan did not present any in-depth analysis of the causes of the current national agri-food crisis. The fact that the hundreds of technicians and government and civil society officials involved in this planning have great differences in politics and understanding of the problem may have been the inhibiting factor in an in-depth diagnostic exercise.

We could summarize the analysis in a single sentence: the Brazil Without Hunger Plan considers that the governments of Lula and Dilma Rousseff were solving the problem of hunger in Brazil with policies of real increases in the minimum wage and Bolsa Família. The “proof” is the fact that FAO removed Brazil from the Hunger map. The current crisis is caused by the governments of Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro, which left a legacy of 33 million hungry people (severe food insecurity), in addition to 90 million in a situation of moderate food insecurity (PENSAN Network).

The Brazil Without Hunger Plan did not evaluate variations in the real values ​​of aid, either due to corrections made by the programs or due to losses caused by food inflation.

When created, Bolsa Família paid an average value of 73 reais and its corrections reached a value of almost 200,00 reais in 2018, but if it had followed general inflation it would have had to pay 50,00 reais more.. If the correction If it were due to food inflation, this loss would be around 100,00 reais. The Bolsonaro government froze Bolsa Família payments until the creation of “its” program, called Auxílio Brasil, in December 2021. Auxílio Brasil initially paid 400,00 reais per family, expanded to 600,00 in August, on the eve of the elections. At the beginning of the pandemic, the National Congress created Emergency Aid, distributing 600,00 reais per month per family.

Using as a parameter the relationship between program contributions and the minimum wage, Bolsa Família paid, on average, 42% and Auxílio Brasil, at its highest value, paid for 4 months, 50%. At the beginning of Bolsa Família, in 2004, the aid paid for a basic food basket, but over time and food inflation it lost purchasing power. None of this was discussed in the National Food Supply Plan, nor was any reassessment of the amounts necessary to guarantee an appropriate diet for the beneficiary families.

A more precise diagnosis would indicate the causes of the food insecurity situation of the different segments of this differentiated public, the 127 million people in a state of severe or moderate food insecurity. It would be very important to think about the future to understand why, for example, we found a large number of family farming households (21,8% or 850 thousand) that are in a situation of severe food insecurity. It seems paradoxical that people dedicated to food production are hungry, but everything has an explanation that needs to be pointed out.

O jornal The Globe, on 20/4/2024, released the IBGE research results and the Getúlio Vargas Foundation's conclusions regarding variations in income distribution, pointing to a reduction in the number of people in extreme poverty of the order of 11,6 million compared to to the year 2021. But anyone who reads the article tends to conclude that it indicates a strong reduction in the number of hungry people, a result of the confusion induced by the report, which introduces the numbers found in the PENSSAN Network survey for the year 2021, 33 million.

From the outset, there is no convergence between the Network's research numbers and the IBGE data. For the latter, the number of people in extreme poverty in 2021 (date of the Network's survey) was 28,7 million. This is explained by differences in the subject matter of the two studies, which the article confuses. One studied indicators of food insecurity and the other the level of income. Although people in extreme poverty will certainly be among the hungry, many who are not among the former may be among the latter. The improvement in income, the effect of aid (Brazil and Bolsa Família) and, in this government, the recovery of employment and the increase in the minimum wage does not guarantee an improvement in the food situation.

The indebtedness of more than half of Brazilian families, as a result of the pandemic, unemployment and precarious work in Jair Bolsonaro's government, was extremely high at the beginning of 2023 and part of the aid resources were consumed in late payments. a new survey by the Network so that we can have a more precise idea of ​​the size of the various target audiences of the Brazil Without Hunger Plan, the hungry, the undernourished and the malnourished.

What are the goals defined for the PBSF?

Although failing to diagnose causality, the preamble of the Brazil Without Hunger Plan presented, in a sometimes contradictory or incoherent way, a picture of the situation of severe and moderate food insecurity. This summary is sufficiently detailed so that the Brazil Without Hunger Plan could have defined a set of priorities and goals to be achieved, something that the document did not show, except in a generic way:

(i) Remove Brazil from the FAO Hunger Map (here there is an implicit goal of increasing caloric intake to the basic minimum, aimed at 33 million hungry people). (ii) Reduce food and nutritional insecurity, in particular severe food insecurity. (how much?). (iii) Reduce the population’s poverty rates year after year. (What is the desired total reduction?)

In the first goal, it is necessary to be clear what the FAO Hunger Map is. This Map only includes people who have a daily caloric intake lower than that indicated as vital by nutritionists, on average 2100 calories. It is clear, however, that many of those who ingest this vital minimum may be lacking in other aspects, particularly proteins. In other words, consuming calories above the vital minimum does not mean that severe food insecurity has been overcome.

Perhaps that is why the second goal was set, aiming for a more adequate diet and this is reinforced by the definition of a new, more balanced basic food basket. I am concerned about this division into two distinct goals, when there is a strong tendency in Brazil to adopt ultra-caloric diets low in proteins, minerals and vitamins. There is a portion of the public, not yet precisely quantified, that suffers from protein and micronutrient insufficiency and that simultaneously suffers from obesity or excess weight due to excessive calorie intake. Having as a primary goal to increase the caloric intake of the hungry only reinforces this serious nutritional status of the poorest.

Based on the data presented, it would be possible and very necessary to affirm the following priorities:

(a) First tackle severe food insecurity, aiming not only at caloric intake, but at a more balanced diet from a nutritional point of view.

We do not know with certainty how many of these are most disadvantaged. According to the 2022 survey by the Brazilian Research Network on Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security (PENSAN), 33 million people were hungry. The 2023 FAO report, using different criteria, pointed to the existence of 21,1 million people in a state of severe food insecurity (IASevere). These very discrepant numbers, mentioned in the PBSF preamble, with a difference in the number of hungry people of around 30%, make an analysis urgent that allows the adoption of a consistent evaluation to guide the program's goals.

(b) Prioritize the rural hungry, 6 million people, 18,2% of the total priority target audience (PENSAN) or 3,8 million, also 18% (FAO). (c) Prioritize the hungry in the north and northeast regions, 4,8 and 12,1 million people or 14,5 and 36,7% of the total (PENSAN Network), or 3,045 and 7,7 million (FAO) in particular rural ones (cross-checking the data from the previous item).

(d) Prioritize particularly vulnerable populations such as indigenous people, quilombolas, campers and agrarian reform settlers, homeless urbanites, seeking to place numbers on these different populations and their location, in order to be able to concretely plan the activities and their costs. (e) Prioritize Bolsa Família beneficiaries, especially families headed by women and with many children in rural and urban areas. Idem.

There are many goals that we can classify as second-level priorities and that are aimed at the hungry in various categories in other large regions (Southeast, South and Central-West), remembering that in these cases the predominance of urban people is much greater, in absolute numbers. and in percentage. And a third level of priority would be the population in a situation of moderate food security, which would require more detailed research to be correctly identified and quantified.

A question of minimum income.

Analyzing the first of the axes defined in the Brazil Without Hunger Plan, “access to income, poverty reduction and promotion of citizenship” we find elements already well placed since the institution of Bolsa Família. Unemployment and low income are indicators that fell during popular governments, beginning a reversal in President Dilma's second government and worsening in the following two governments.

It is necessary to remember that the improvement in employment and income that occurred since the FHC government and expanded during popular governments, did not have a significant effect on improving the diet of the poorest, although it did improve caloric intake. This is explained by two important factors: the first is that family spending is not defined solely by the needs of purchasing food. Essential expenses, such as rent, transport, health, education, energy, clothing and communication, compete with spending on food.

Despite the progress in the income of the poorest, these other expenses push families to spend as little as possible on food and this means adopting cheaper diets that are poorer from a nutritional point of view. In fact, Bolsa Família became a minimum income program and not a food program, in the strictest sense. And as a minimum income program, it distributes supplementary amounts to family income that are insufficient to cover all of the families' basic needs, leading to a sacrifice in food quality.

Focusing on tackling the issue of food and nutritional insecurity on the distribution of financial resources would imply greatly increasing the values ​​of this contribution and, even so, it would not be successful if the supply of adequate food in quantity, quality and affordable prices is not increased.

A questof the food supply

With these observations, we reach the crucial point of the Brazil Without Hunger Plan, the second axis: “food and nutritional security – healthy eating from production to consumption”.

Firstly, it is necessary to understand the market dynamics that define the prices of the basic basket, the one defined in 1937 under the Getúlio Vargas government or the new basket, defined in 2024 under the Lula government.

The decree that established the new basket did not follow that of Vargas in quantifying the desirable consumption of each product, which makes it impossible to calculate the costs of a healthy diet indicated by him, as well as the increase in food supply that would be necessary to meet to expanded demand.

The Lula government is proposing tax exemptions for some of the items in the basket, while others would have reductions of 40%. Even without quantitative indication of desirable food and nutritional consumption, it is clear that the cost of the new basket will be higher than the current one. In a previous article I used a study by the UERJ Institute of Social Medicine, which went further and defined a “correct” diet in terms of quality and quantity of each product, reaching (with prices updated by food inflation) values ​​close to 1400,00 monthly reais for a family of two adults and two children.

As the new basket will not change the basis for calculating the minimum wage, there will be a deficit in families' ability to purchase food. In fact, this deficit already exists, even using the lower cost of the traditional basket. To purchase the basket indicated in the 1937 decree, the family would have to commit 57% of the minimum wage, which is unfeasible given the other necessary expenses. The cost of the desirable basic food basket, calculated by UERJ, would consume the entire current minimum wage.

Releasing basic food basket products is something that has already been done under Dilma's government, being applied to the traditional food basket. The effect on household food consumption was not significant, mainly because food prices increased more than tax exemptions.

All of this indicates that it is not enough to indicate an ideal food basket, even if quantified, if the income values ​​of the poorest do not cover the costs, food and others. One might think, and it seems to be the case of government technicians, that Bolsa Família resources would cover these differences between the income earned and the cost of food. This was not the case in the Bolsa Família model in popular governments between 2004 and 2016, nor in the equivalent program defined by Congress in 2020, which increased the amounts distributed by 300%.

Some analysts explain this process based on the dynamics of the prices of basic products, almost always above and often double the average inflation in the economy. And this leads us to ask ourselves why this happens.

There are two factors pushing food prices upward persistently. On the one hand, there was a process of capitalization of the production of basic foods such as beans, rice, wheat and corn. The model adopted by agribusiness (and the “agribusiness” of family farming) implies higher costs due to the use of chemical fertilizers, improved seeds, pesticides and machinery (with lower labor costs). Theoretically, this modernization would lead to a fall in the unit prices of products, due to an expected increase in crop yields.

It turns out that, after an initial jump in income, they stagnated and required greater use of inputs for their maintenance. And the cost of these inputs has continued to grow, here or in the rest of the world, mainly due to the greater difficulties in obtaining raw materials for energy, fertilizers and pesticides. Climate instability, with increasingly frequent and intense droughts and floods, has also helped to lower the yields of these food crops (and all others, of course).

But the most important effect in reducing the supply of basic foods in Brazil lies in another cause: the decrease in the area systematically cultivated. This factor is rooted in competition between food products and export commodities. The international markets for soybeans, corn, sugar and meat (among others) are more attractive to agribusiness producers than the domestic market for food products, especially those for consumption by the masses with lower purchasing power.

On the other hand, the more capitalized family producers, who until 1985 placed the majority of basic food products on the market, left this focus aside and began to dedicate themselves, like agribusiness producers, to the cultivation of commodities and the creation of cattle. Today, the contribution of family farming to food production is, in value, around 25% while the rest is in the hands of agribusiness.

This change is explained by the impact of policies to promote the development of family farming adopted by the governments of FHC, Lula and Dilma. Facilitated credit and technical assistance led nearly 500 thousand farmers (12,5% ​​of the total) to adopt the so-called modern production model, with the intensive use of inputs and machines. Many (in a still approximate calculation, close to 125 thousand) went bankrupt and abandoned the field, but the most efficient (or best endowed in terms of production conditions) found that it was safer and more profitable to produce commodities than food for consumer consumption. mass and many changed their focus.

And why would the commodities Are they more attractive than rice, beans, corn, wheat and cassava? Obviously, the food market is guided by the purchasing power of the income earned by consumer families and this income has always been below the needs, food or otherwise, of the poorest families and even the poorest.

Higher prices for basic foods, pressured by input costs and climate impacts, have led to a process of continuous change in the diet of the poorest and even the poorest. Rice with beans was replaced by rice with egg, then pasta (wheat) with sausage and then crackers, bread or noodles (wheat) with sausage.

Of course, these are symbolic elements and no one eats just these products, but the crux of the matter is that, under pressure from food prices and low income, families have adapted to consuming lower-priced products: ultra-processed products, despite of its lower nutritional quality. The poorest population (the 60 million in the BF program) and the poorest (67 million) are adopting a diet that boils down to “filling their bellies”, resulting in the pandemic of malnutrition, malnutrition and obesity that is plaguing us and which is leading to an exponential increase diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

On the other hand, this decrease in consumption of the basic foods mentioned above inhibits the expansion of production, creating a vicious circle. The production volume of beans and rice, for example, has been stagnant for decades, while per capita consumption has been falling regularly.

The challenge of increasing the food supply in Brazil is enormous. The Brazil Without Hunger Plan raises this need, but does not attempt to quantify it. Without production targets, the proposal repeats past incentive policies, especially the expansion of credit, which did not achieve the expected results.

What would be the necessary increase in food production to meet the demand of a correctly nourished population?

As a demonstrative exercise, we will analyze one of the essential products of this desirable diet, researched by the Institute of Social Medicine of the State University of Rio de Janeiro. I calculated, in another article, that the deficit in the production of beans (black, colored or black-eyed beans) would be 10 million tons, with national production stagnating at 3 million a long time ago, balanced with market demand. In other words, to meet the ideal (increased) demand of national consumers, production would have to quadruple at least. And what types of producers could provide this massive response in terms of increasing supply?

Agribusiness bean production (CONAB, 21/22) reached 2.340.000 tons and that of traditional family farmers and capitalized farmers reached 659.000 tons, 78% and 22% respectively. The former placed 89% of their production on the market and the latter 55%, the differences being explained by self-consumption. The supply of beans to the national market was 2,445 thousand tons, 14,8% of which came from family production and 85,2% from employer agriculture.

This indicates that the government's effort to quadruple bean production should be focused on the category of agribusiness producers, around 309 thousand farmers. However, only 6 thousand farmers, with a property area between 20 and more than 500 hectares, account for around 60% of current production. Around 20 thousand capitalized family farmers, with a property area between 5 and 100 hectares, would be a secondary target. Around 1,2 million traditional family farmers with a property area between zero and five hectares would be a tertiary target, if we take into account as a criterion only the potential for an expanded supply of beans necessary to meet the demand for a correct diet for all Brazilians.

More than tripling bean production can be achieved in three ways:

(a) Increasing the yield of bean crops. Traditional bean producers, family and non-capitalized, obtained yields of 650 to 850 kilograms per hectare. Modernized producers, large and medium-sized agribusiness entrepreneurs reached 1200 kg/ha, on average. However, producers in Goiás and São Paulo achieved average yields of 2600 kg/ha and 2380 kg/ha respectively. The national average yield for all producers is 1090 kg/ha (2022 IBGE Census).

The maximum yield in bean production in conventional systems in Brazil was obtained by the Agricultural Research Company (EPAGRI) of Santa Catarina, using high productivity varieties and the entire package of chemical inputs, reaching 4000kg/ha. If this package were applied by all bean farmers, the increase in income would be 530% for traditional family members and around 330% for those modernized in agribusiness.

Experiences in agroecological bean production point to yields of up to 3200kg/ha in complex diversified systems that include other products in the same cultivated area, which makes harvest mechanization unfeasible and limits this production to a small scale, more suitable for family farming.

Generalizing the yields indicated by EPAGRI research (or those from agroecology) will not be easy.

Firstly, because this more advanced system, within the logic of agribusiness, was formulated for the production of black or colored beans in the conditions of Santa Catarina and it would be necessary to develop varieties adapted for the rest of the country, in particular for the production of black-eyed peas in the Northeast.

Secondly, because the conversion of around 1,2 million traditional family producers, located mainly in the Northeast, to capitalized systems would be a herculean and high-risk task, given the region's environmental conditions. Let us also remember that these are very low-income farmers, without access to credit and technical assistance and with low insertion in the markets. However, converting them to agroecology on a small scale is feasible based on already advanced experiences promoted by civil society. As already mentioned, this last option can have an important social effect and remove millions of rural families from food insecurity and even Bolsa Família, but without major effects on the supply of beans on the national market.

(b) Increase the cultivated area of ​​current producers. Regarding traditional agriculture, particularly in the Northeast, the availability of area is too limited to consider this hypothesis, since more than a million of them have areas smaller than one hectare. Family farmers in the agronegocinho have, on average, 30% of their total area to expand crops, but they would probably have to abandon other crops and focus on bean production, which would make them more vulnerable to climatic events, pest attacks and market fluctuations.

The best possibility of expanding the cultivated area lies with large and medium-sized agribusiness producers, who have the area to expand cultivation and mastery of the necessary (conventional) agronomic practices. Without price guarantees, facilitated credit and a guaranteed market this will not be possible.

(c) Attract new bean producers. This depends, above all, on creating competitive conditions for this product. This will not be easy given the consolidation of export production chains (such as soybeans) with attractive prices. Furthermore, the risk that a farmer would have to take when abandoning soybeans, for example, for a more delicate crop such as beans, is still an inhibiting factor. Once again and more emphatically, the government would have to guarantee credits, prices and markets that make bean production competitive compared to commodity crops.

The exercise above, centered on beans, would have to be done for all products in the new basic basket, starting with those that were already included in the previous one, such as rice, corn, cassava and wheat. In all of them, a significant increase in the volume produced annually would have to be achieved. It will be challenging, in particular, to increase vegetable production in the quantity required by the demand fueled by a program aimed at adopting a correct diet.

nutrition education

There is another factor to consider in this equation. The eating habits of the poorest have been conditioned for a long time by low income and high prices and it would take a huge effort in food education to adopt a correct diet from a nutritional point of view, even if the necessary income and availability of food are guaranteed. foods.

The government can guarantee the provision of school meals with a correct diet, as long as it significantly increases the budgetary resources for this program, but it cannot guarantee that the Bolsa Família contributions, even increased, are used by families to adopt the correct diet. And the poorest have other limitations, such as the cost of energy (price of a gas cylinder) to prepare meals or the time needed for this purpose.

It will be essential to formulate a broad nutritional education program in order to ensure that the expansion of income and the supply of adequate food products results in a change in the diet currently in force.

What is the role of agroecology in a polielimination tactiction of hunger and adopting a correct diet from a nutritional point of view?

I have already indicated, in other articles, the potential of agroecology to respond to several of the limitations of the current agri-food system. However, the inevitable and necessary transition to ecologically-based agriculture cannot occur in a short timeframe.

The Brazil Without Hunger Plan should adopt, as far as possible, incentives to facilitate the agroecological transition, but setting goals that are practicable under current conditions. This would be more viable, in my opinion, in a program aimed at traditional farmers. It would be possible, from the point of view of agronomic knowledge and technical assistance, to promote diversified agroecological-based production for traditional microproducers, guaranteeing self-subsistence with the adoption of a correct diet.

The Ministry of Agrarian Development launched a program entitled “Productive Backyards” that can be aimed at agroecological production. There are numerous experiences of this type promoted by civil society, with widespread success, which can serve as a model for reproduction on a scale. But the program is undersized, both in the amounts identified for each family (10 thousand reais) and in the number of families covered (100 thousand).

It is not viable to propose that capitalized producers of beans, wheat, rice, corn or other food products, already accustomed to the agrochemical and motor-mechanized model, can be converted to agroecological systems en masse and in a short time frame. The necessary and urgent expansion of food production will not be achieved by this type of agroecological conversion quickly enough, as it requires a few years to be completed. But it is possible to induce the adoption of some techniques for this necessary long-term change.

Well-known practices developed by research companies such as Embrapa, state universities or agricultural universities can be disseminated through technical assistance and conditioned by easier credits. This is the case, for example, of the adoption of Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPM), which must be combined with a policy of reducing pesticide subsidies and eliminating the most dangerous products, currently widely used. The adoption of Integrated Pest and Disease Management, promoted by FAO in the Philippines, for example, allowed the use of pesticides to be reduced by 70%. All of this has to do with credit, insurance and technical assistance policies.

How to face constant increases in fertilizer prices?

Brazil depends on fertilizer imports for almost 80% of current demand. With a large-scale food production expansion program, this demand will become even more heated and prices will rise. The rise in oil prices (15% at the beginning of the year alone) will also put pressure on the cost of fertilization. In the short term, but much more in the medium and long term, our deficit in fertilizer production will be dramatic. It is necessary to adopt ways to replace this input, as we do not have phosphorus and potassium reserves that cover more than a small fraction of the demand.

The government should adopt a national program for composting organic waste and sewage sludge to address the national shortage in fertilizer production. Studies promoted by Finep for a long time have all the technical elements and economic and agronomic evaluation. However, if such a program is implemented and left to the mercy of the market, it is more than likely that soy agribusiness would compete for the appropriation of this input and food production could become marginalized once again.

The irrigation problemo.

Another fundamental program to be applied on a large scale is the financing of water infrastructure capable of capturing and storing rainwater to promote irrigation. This program already existed in previous popular governments, but on a small scale and has not yet been resumed.

Experiences with this type of productive water infrastructure were promoted by civil society in the Northeast, but it would be important to start adapting them to other regions, given the growing irregularity of rainfall across the country. The previous program, called “One Land and Two Waters”, paid for the construction of a cistern for home use and a water infrastructure for irrigation.

There are several models of water infrastructure for this purpose, but the most common was developed by Embrapa Petrolina and is called the sidewalk cistern. It allows the irrigation of half to two hectares of crops. This is sufficient for the backyard program, mentioned above, but for larger plots other, more expensive models would be needed. To give an estimated cost dimension, providing northeastern producers with less than two hectares of land (around one million) with a boardwalk cistern (around twenty thousand reais) would cost the program 20 billion. Support for diversified agroecological production has other costs to calculate.

To conclude, it is necessary to provide concreteness and define viable goals for the program, detailing the specific policies and ensuring their coherent articulation. AND, "Last but not least”, it would be extremely important for the government to negotiate with different types of producers to engage them in this Herculean task of promoting a new nutritionally correct agri-food system.

The creation of a state structure to deal in an integrated way with the food problem in all its dimensions would be highly recommended, overcoming these formulas of aggregating on paper dozens of departments from various ministries, without them having the real possibility of integrating their efforts. Such a structure already existed in the past and could come back to life, such is the importance of this issue. This is the National Institute of Food and Nutrition, created by the military in 1972 and extinguished in 1997. Unlike the times of the dictatorship, this institution should have full powers to mobilize the State to face the endemic problem of hunger and malnutrition.

*Jean Marc von der Weid is a former president of the UNE (1969-71). Founder of the non-governmental organization Family Agriculture and Agroecology (ASTA).


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