Brazilian City Makes Food A Basic Right And Ends Hunger

Belo Horizonte People's Restaurant Photo

Restaurant Popular (People's Restaurant) by Bruno Spada/MDS

Back in 1993, the newly elected city government of Belo Horizonte, Brazil declared that food was a right of citizenship. At that time, the city of 2.5 million had 275,000 people living in absolute poverty, and close to 20 percent of its children were going hungry. Since the declaration the city has all but wiped out hunger and only spends 2% of the city budget to do so.

So how did they make it happen?

Writing in the Spring edition of Yes! Magazine Frances Moore Lappé, author of the classic book Diet For A Small Planet, digs into how Belo Horizonte residents and government officials keep their city food secure.

The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers. It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce-which often reached 100 percent-to consumers and the farmers. Farmers' profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.

Once the concept of food as a right took hold a variety of different methods for getting healthy food to the people emerged. Entrepreneurs are given the chance to bid on high-traffic plots of land to sell produce. In return they agree to sell 20 or so fresh produce items at 3/4 of the going market price, and the rest of their produce can be sold at the market price. Three large scale "People's Restaurants" serve healthy meals to 12,000 people a day for the equivalent of $0.50, and innovative school programs ensure that students are well fed.

Belo’s food security initiatives also include extensive community and school gardens as well as nutrition classes. Plus, money the federal government contributes toward school lunches, once spent on processed, corporate food, now buys whole food mostly from local growers.

In just a decade Belo Horizonte cut its infant death rate—widely used as evidence of hunger—by more than half, and today these initiatives benefit almost 40 percent of the city’s 2.5 million population. One six-month period in 1999 saw infant malnutrition in a sample group reduced by 50 percent. And between 1993 and 2002 Belo Horizonte was the only locality in which consumption of fruits and vegetables went up.

If you want to learn more, Ryerson University in Toronto is offering a Summer course that includes a week long field trip to Belo Horizonte to meet with key stakeholders that keep the city food secure.

The last word goes to Lappé who says, "Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy."

Yes! Magazine

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