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Brazil Takes the Fight Against Hunger Abroad

Fabiana Frayssinet

SALVADOR, Brazil, Nov 8 2011 (IPS) - The Brazilian government is extending its fight against hunger to the world stage, by inaugurating a Centre of Excellence Against Hunger to transmit its positive experiences to other developing countries with the help of United Nations agencies.

Giant papayas grown with the help of an underground reservoir in Laginhas, Pernambuco, in Brazil's arid Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Giant papayas grown with the help of an underground reservoir in Laginhas, Pernambuco, in Brazil's arid Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Centre of Excellence, to be based in Brasilia, the capital, was launched Monday Nov. 7 by Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), and Marco Farani, head of the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC), in the presence of José Graziano da Silva, director-general elect of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The centre has already established partnerships between the WFP and Brazil, Mozambique, East Timor and Haiti.

“We are working together to develop technical cooperation capacities in African, Latin American and Asian countries, so that they can learn about Brazil’s experience in combating hunger, and eventually develop their own national school meal programmes and anti-poverty policies,” the head of the centre, Daniel Balabán, told IPS.

The Centre of Excellence Against Hunger, created to enable capacity development of national governments in the areas of school lunches, nutrition, and food security, will receive financial, technological and operational resources from Brazilian bodies and from the United Nations.

The goal, according to ABC’s Farani, is “to disseminate good practices in the field of school feeding,” taking advantage of WFP and Brazilian experience in the design, management and expansion of sustainable school meal programmes, as well as to support existing initiatives.

“Brazil has a wealth of experience that can be shared with governments eager to learn how they achieved that success and adapt it to their own countries,” said Sheeran at the launch ceremony in Salvador, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia. “The Centre will provide a unique South-South bridge to food security.”

The harsh reality is that one in seven people in the world go hungry every day. “When people are hungry, they only have three options – they revolt, they migrate or they die,” Sheeran said at the Fourth National Conference on Food and Nutrition Security, being held Nov. 7-10 in Salvador.

But Brazil has created a fourth option, which is to fight hunger and give children hope for the future, she said.

Brazil’s Zero Hunger programme, which dates from 2003 and combines emergency assistance with job creation and family income support policies, is a recognised success in the field.

The programme, implemented by the government of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and continued by his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, achieved a 61 percent reduction in child malnutrition, an eight-fold increase in credit for small farmers and a 15 percent fall in rural poverty, according to Graziano da Silva, one of the architects of the plan.

In tandem with the broader anti-poverty Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) programme, which transfers cash to poor households on condition that the children attend school and keep up-to-date on vaccinations and health check-ups, Zero Hunger helped lift some 28 million people out of poverty in this country of 192 million.

The Centre of Excellence will focus on one of the Zero Hunger initiatives: the school meals programme, which in Brazil delivers three meals a day to 47 million children and teenagers, and is regarded as a global model.

The Centre’s strategy will also be linked to small-scale family agriculture and local food purchasing, “combined in such a way as to feed the children and stimulate local production,” said Farani.

“The idea for the centre arose because of the high demand for Brazilian cooperation in this field,” the Foreign Ministry’s coordinator of international action against hunger, Milton Rondó Filho, told IPS.

“What we did with the school meals programme was to try to develop a sort of virtuous circle. The first concern was the children’s nutrition; better nutrition leads to greater learning ability, and more learning ability together with purchasing food locally promotes local development,” he said.

By law, 30 percent of the food served in school meals must be bought from family farmers in the same local area as the school.

The initiative will also have an impact on gender equality. Rondó Filho mentioned that in western Pakistan, illiteracy among girls is as high as 97 percent.

“The U.N. says that if we introduce school meals, no one will keep girls at home, and they will be sent to school,” he said.

“We’re not trying to convert schools into restaurants; the programme improves not only nutrition but also school attendance and learning ability. And purchasing products in the local area is a huge driver of local development,” he stressed.

Bahia Governor Jaques Wagner, hosting the inaugural ceremony, said that in his state school meals power the local economy, “the corner store, the street markets, and the large produce markets, because it’s a bottom-up income generation scheme.”

The nutritional Centre of Excellence is not intended to reproduce the Brazilian strategy, but to adapt it to the geographical, cultural and ethnic characteristics of the different countries, Mozambique’s vice minister of education, Augusto Jone Luis, said at the launch.

In Mozambique, a country of over 20 million people in southeast Africa where the school meals programme reaches six million schoolchildren and is expected to expand with the help of the centre, success is based on “school nutrition with an educational twist,” said Luis.

Over 2,000 Brazilian participants and 100 international guests are attending the Fourth National Conference on Food and Nutrition Security, where authorities and civil society organisations are assessing progress towards ensuring the right to food, enshrined in Brazil’s constitution last year.

But the country still has pending challenges. Sixteen million people – the participants in the “Brazil Without Poverty” plan initiated by President Rousseff – live on less than 41 dollars a month. And adequate nutrition standards have not yet been met.

This week’s conference, organised by the National Council for Food and Nutrition Security, will address these problems, as well as other worrisome issues, such as the rise of obesity, soil degradation, climate change and toxic agrochemicals.

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