In 2003, the Brazilian government declared that food was a basic human right. Then it found that ending hunger takes a lot more than a declaration.
In the 1990s, the city of Belo Horizonte, in northeastern Brazil, was a hunger disaster area. Although Brazil produces more than enough food to meet the needs of its population, roughly one-fourth of Belo Horizonte’s children were malnourished.
Since then, though, hunger has virtually vanished. The municipal food security agency has promoted low-price farmer’s markets, encouraged urban farming, established school gardens and school lunch programs, distributed food baskets to poor families, and linked the region’s “landless peasant” movement (which occupies and farms on abandoned lands) to consumers in Belo Horizonte’s favelas, or slums.
Belo Horizonte’s program has become a model for Brazil’s national “Zero Hunger” program, based on former President Ignacio “Lula” da Silva’s declaration that food would henceforth be a basic human right. The national program has been remarkably successful, but it hasn’t been as easy as idealistic planners originally hoped.
Lesson number one: There’s no simple formula. It takes imagination, flexibility, local leadership, and plenty of boots on the ground.