How Brazil Dodged the Economic Crisis While Slashing Hunger
By José Graziano da Silva *
The world crisis requires rapid responses capable of reviving demand and proposals for action to transform the current financial chaos into a cycle of expansion without compromising social justice, says FAO Director-General elect José Graziano.
SALVADOR, Brazil, Nov 7 (Tierramérica).- Guiding the transition from one cycle of development to another is among of the most daunting tasks in politics.
With the launch in January 2003 of the Zero Hunger program, Brazil's food security policy achieved exactly that, taking a wide range of actions - with emphasis on the need to end hunger - to boost job creation and restore the buying power of the minimum wage.
The basic approach of the program was to increase the buying power, especially for food, of the poorest families by providing them with regular payments tied to certain conditions while simultaneously promoting reforms to stimulate job creation.
This combination of actions contributed to dismantling areas of resistance, which should not be ignored at the beginning of a new cycle, produced fast results in terms of social benefits, and won the government political legitimacy in the eyes of various sectors of the population.
The government could then take steps of a more structural nature, giving increased autonomy to specific sectors - encouraging family agriculture, for example - which strengthens the movement towards a new dynamic of inclusive growth.
The numbers give the clearest picture of the effectiveness of the approach: between 2003 and 2010, infant malnutrition dropped by 61 percent, credit for family farmers grew eightfold, while their income grew three times faster than the national average and rural poverty fell by 15 percent.
What is inspiring about the Brazilian experience is not only the speed and size of the results but the revelation of the mutually reinforcing interplay between fighting hunger and the new dynamics of growth.
One example is the annual captive demand of one billion reals (about 580 million dollars) generated by family farming thanks to the requirement that one third of food for schools be bought from local producers.
Policies like these can be adapted to the conditions of other countries, reproducing the positive effects in local communities with important benefits, like food security for all society.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Brazilian government already share with other Latin American and Caribbean countries the experience of buying local products from small farms to serve as snacks at schools.
Brazil did not reinvent the wheel in its fight against hunger, but it did increasingly leverage the successful implementation of programs inside the country and elsewhere. Above all, it took a page from the United States' "New Deal", which helped the country overcome the great depression of the 1930s and made the rebuilding of demand a top priority.
Brazil's success confirms that the state remains an important force in redefining the operation of growth in the transition from one economic cycle to another.
The 2003 recreation of the National Council on Food and Nutritional Security (CONSEA) provided a forum for the renegotiation of the new democratic hegemony. In the course of the process a number of historical structural changes were made.
This group of actions restored the massive domestic market's central role, allowing the country to continue to grow as trade and employment shrank worldwide.
Today we are free to say what in the 1990s was anathema: that a society controls its development only when it is able to regulate it with public policies generated democratically by an active state in association with an organized civil society and the participation of the private sector.
This is what Brazil continues to do, as seen in the Fourth National Conference on Food and Nutritional Security, to be held Nov. 7-10 in Salvador, Bahia, which more than 2,000 national and 100 international delegates are expected to attend, including members of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger for Latin American and the Caribbean, which is working to ensure that governments provide adequate budgets to address the issue of food security.
The FAO as well is enlisting a broad range of forces in its fight against hunger with the reform and broadening of the Committee on World Food Security, the global equivalent of the CONSEA.
Creating food security at the global level could play an important part in overcoming the current economic crisis, for which there is no plan for ending the paralyzing vicious circle of consumers who do not buy, factories that do not produce, and banks that do not loan.
Almost 80 percent of humanity now live on less than 10 dollars a day and spend most of their money on food. About 70 percent of the people suffering from malnutrition live on the land but without being able to extract from it enough to survive.
For most of the world, therefore, the most palpable manifestation of the crisis is the sharp fluctuations in production, supply, and food prices caused by financial turbulence.
The world crisis requires rapid responses capable of reviving demand and broadly agreed proposals for action to transform the current financial chaos into a cycle of expansion without compromising social justice. The fight against hunger could be one of the pillars of such a program.
* Jose Graziano da Silva is Director-General elect of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). He will assume the position in January 2012. Copyright IPS.