What does Brazil need to do to end hunger?

  • Tempo de leitura:5 minutos de leitura

José Graziano da Silva | 20/05/2024

Recently, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) delivered some promising news: hunger in Brazil saw a significant decline last year. According to the data released, severe food insecurity in the country dropped from 33 million to less than 9 million people between the start of 2022 and the end of 2023.

Furthermore, the total number of individuals facing severe or moderate food insecurity – those not consuming enough for a normal life – decreased from 65 million to less than 21 million during the same period.

This remarkable progress can largely be attributed to the macroeconomic policies implemented in 2023, notably the real increase in the minimum wage, coupled with reduced unemployment, stabilized food prices, and the positive impact of enhanced social, cash-transfer programs such as Bolsa Família.

However, despite these strides, it is imperative not to overlook the fact that nearly 21 million people – a figure akin to the population of the São Paulo metropolitan region – still grapple with hunger in Brazil. This hunger is not due to food shortages, but primarily stems from the lack of purchasing power among the poorest, meaning they cannot afford basic necessities.

The situation remains particularly dire in the Northeast and, notably, the Amazon, where food insecurity is intricately linked to the environmental degradation caused by deforestation and illegal mining, affecting not only indigenous territories but also conservation areas and lands cultivated by small family farmers.

It is pertinent to note that hunger is no longer predominantly a rural issue, as it was two decades ago when the Zero Hunger Program was initiated. Nowadays, hunger is predominantly an urban concern – specifically, it is concentrated in the major cities across the nation.

Regrettably, the issue at hand is not solely hunger – the lack of adequate nutrition also plagues many. Due to financial constraints, families compromise on the quality of their diets, opting for cheaper, ultraprocessed alternatives over fresh, nutritious foods. Consequently, the IBGE survey revealed that approximately 14 million households – roughly 20% of the total – experience mild food insecurity, resorting to unhealthy diets due to financial limitations. This dietary inadequacy has severe health ramifications, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular ailments.

To effectively eradicate hunger and malnutrition, we must surpass previous efforts and adopt comprehensive strategies. The frontline agencies of the current Lula government, including the Ministries of Agrarian Development, Social Development, and Health, must collaborate diligently toward this common goal.

To this end, two critical policy interventions are imperative.

Firstly, tax reform is essential. Presently, the tax system exacerbates inequality by imposing uniform taxes on food items, irrespective of the consumer’s financial standing. While the recent governmental proposal to exempt basic necessities from federal taxes and provide cashback incentives to the poorest is a step in the right direction, it is not sufficient measure. We must also levy higher taxes on ultraprocessed foods and offer exemptions or subsidies for healthy options, particularly fresh produce, to ensure accessibility for the economically disadvantaged.

Secondly, establishing city-level food and nutrition security policies akin to those governing education and healthcare is vital. Integrating social welfare, healthcare, and food security initiatives at the local level will facilitate access to adequate nutrition and prevent dire situations from escalating into crises, as exemplified by the recent case of a teenager in Minas Gerais reporting his family’s starvation to emergency services.

Despite the progress achieved, tangible steps are necessary to definitively eradicate hunger in Brazil. Sustained commitment to food and nutrition security policies, alongside income redistribution programs targeting vulnerable families, must be enshrined as enduring state policies – not transient governmental measures. The reentry of Brazil into the FAO Hunger Map following the discontinuation of policies post-2015 serves as a stark reminder of this imperative.

Only through concerted, sustained efforts, with civil society at the forefront, can we ensure that every Brazilian has access to adequate, dignified sustenance.