FAO Representative in Brazil says “the fight against hunger in Brazil has not been prioritized” Agribusiness

For a representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO/United nations) In Brazil, Rafael Zavala, the country has failed to prioritize the fight against hunger at the national level in recent years, resulting in a “frightening number” of food insecurity throughout its territory.

According to the National Survey on Food Insecurity in the Context of the Covid-19 Pandemic in Brazil, conducted by PENSSAN and released in early June, 33.1 million Brazilians live in a state of hunger in the country. At the end of 2020, there were 19.1 million.

In another Datafolha survey, conducted in the penultimate week of June, 1 in 4 respondents said the amount of food available at home was less than what was needed to feed their family.

“The fight against hunger has not been given priority at the national level,” Rafael Zavala said in an interview with BBC News Brasil.

According to the Mexican who ranks first in FAO/United nations In Brazil since the end of 2018, the problem of Brazil is not one of food shortages like other parts of the world, but one of inequality.

Zavala says the country has been the champion of one of the world’s most successful campaigns against food insecurity, when in 2014 it reduced the proportion of citizens who suffer from hunger to 1.7% of the population, or 3.4 million people. And overcame the problem of extreme poverty.

However, in recent years it has abandoned important practices that contributed to this scenario, such as investing in minimum wages and job creation.

“The country knows how to change this situation,” says the Mexican.

Zavala gave an interview to BBC News Brasil on the occasion of his participation on Thursday (06/30) in the Conference on International Security in Copacabana, an international security event designed by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the European Union Mission and the Brazilian International Centre. Relations.

Here are key excerpts from the interview:

BBC News Brazil – Several recent surveys have revealed a dramatic deterioration in the state of hunger in Brazil. Someone talks about 33.1 million Brazilians who are food insecure, or 15.5% of the population. How do you assess the current situation?

We can say that there are currently pockets of poverty in Brazil: megacities and remote rural areas cut off from the outside world, where interruptions in the flow of supplies can create conditions of serious food insecurity.

On the other hand, it is very clear that Brazil has had one of the most successful experiences, not only in Latin America but in the world, in fighting hunger for about 15 or 20 years. In other words, the state knows how this situation has changed.

BBC News Brazil – What format contributed to this successful experiment? How should you adapt to the present moment?

Zavala – Five main priorities have been pursued. The first was to fight hunger across the country. The second and third increase the minimum wage and investment in job creation. Then school lunch programs and community kitchens and restaurants were enhanced.

The fifth and final priority was the promotion of family farming and its inclusion in public procurement, which meant stability for many families who would otherwise have migrated to urban centers.

Of these five points, only the last two remain stable today. The fight against hunger at the national level has not been prioritized in recent years. Investing in food programs and the promotion of family farming continued, but this was not enough, as it became too obvious.

The strategy of the next government, whatever it may be, must be in the direction of prioritizing the fight against hunger throughout the country, as well as continuing to invest the largest in job creation and strengthening social inclusion programs.

The problem in Brazil and Latin America is not food availability, but inequality, poverty and lack of income.

BBC News Brazil – Has the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the situation?

Zavala – Yes, the pandemic has shaken many sectors. When confinement and school closures were enacted, for example, many children were left without their main food all day.

Emergency relief was a great effort, but it was not enough and many suffered from starvation – an estimated 20 million people in the first year of the epidemic. But Covid-19 has also caused inflation, which means higher prices for just about everything.

In addition, a large part of the Brazilian population participates in the informal economy and has experienced a decrease in their income for food due to the pandemic. Then they went to buy

So the second challenge, in addition to hunger, is to promote healthy diets while ensuring that families have enough income to sustain a healthy diet. This is one of the biggest challenges, not only for Brazil, but for Latin America as a whole.

BBC News Brazil – Could the Brazilian government act differently to avoid or reduce the effects of the pandemic on food insecurity?

Zavala – I can imagine that five years ago, the problem of hunger was more concentrated in northern and northeastern Brazil. So there could be an explanation that it was just a regional problem. But that reality has changed, and this issue should now be a national priority.

Moreover, hunger is not only a task for the government, but also for civil society, state and municipal governments, especially in the case of Brazil, which is the most decentralized country in Latin America.

Rio de Janeiro, for example, has a municipal food security plan that I really like, with economical cooking plans and Prato Vito, aimed at the most vulnerable residents. This example is not unique.

I see community restaurant programs and other similar schemes in Belo Horizonte, the Federal District and other cities that need better promotion.

But the only acceptable number of hunger in Brazil is zero.

BBC News Brazil – What else can you attribute to the deterioration in the data?

Zavala – There is a global context to the crisis. We say that there are generally four main causes of famine: armed conflict, economic crisis, climate shock, and epidemics. All four of these events occur simultaneously in the world today.

In the past five years, we went back 10 years in terms of hunger data. Between 2016 and 2021, the number of food insecure people increased by 80%. Of these, 72% are in countries with armed conflict and 16% in countries with acute economic conflict. The remaining 12% is due to climatic shock, particularly the long droughts recorded in Africa and Asia.

It is also important to note the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which led to a global logistical distortion, increased prices and inflation. At this very moment, 350 cargo ships docked in the port of Odessa filled with grain and fertilizers, strategic inputs for food production, which would go to everyone, but they did not arrive.

Secretary General of United nationsAntonio Guterres, admitted that countries such as Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan, which depend on Ukrainian wheat production, may suffer from “multiple hunger”.

Zavala – the fact that the state does not have a problem with the availability of food, but with economic access to it.

Brazil is known as the “granary of the world” or the “breadbasket” of the world for its food production, especially grain. But I like to call it the “global food locomotive”. In other words, food is already there, it is available, but it is not available to families with lower incomes.

Latin America has a population of 650 million and produces food to feed twice the population, but the biggest challenge is getting that food to reach homes. That is why we have to work for income generation.

BBC News Brazil – In terms of agricultural production, what are the challenges facing Brazil?

Zavala – There are two main challenges. The first is that Brazil is a world food locomotive, but it uses fuel produced 12 thousand kilometers away. Most of the fertilizers and agricultural inputs used in the country come from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and North Africa, and it is necessary to reduce this dependence and invest in a regional movement, where countries like Argentina and Chile suffer from the same problem.

The second major challenge lies in the fact that unlike other food locomotives such as the United States, Canada, Argentina, India and China, Brazil is very close to the heart of planetary biodiversity. In other words, the obstacle is to create a truly sustainable agricultural strategy, with no deforestation, to feed the population with zero hunger.

BBC News Brazil – There was a huge fallout here in Brazil when the country left the world hunger map United nations 2014. Where is the country now?

Zavala – Hunger Map in United nations no longer exist. It was based on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), created in 2000, which were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals – and with the change we changed the way we communicate data.

But it is worth noting that if the map still existed, then Brazil would be in it at the moment. Countries with populations greater than 5% are listed as food insecure – this is the case in Brazil today.

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