Sunday, 9 December 2012

MALNUTRITION: Brazil: Fighting malnutrition, poverty the Brazilian way

By Waqas Naeem

Published: December 4, 2012
Amaral says that under the programme, the state feeds students at public schools with 30% of the product from local “family farmers.” PHOTO: FILE
By asking Brazil for help on food security and poverty alleviation, Pakistan could not have chosen a better source.
In 2003, the Brazilian government came up with a “Zero Hunger Programme” to tackle malnutrition and food insecurity its citizens faced due to demand-side issues such as poverty and income inequality. Within ten years, the programme has helped 40 million Brazilians out of poverty through a series of policies and interventions. Today, more than 55% of Brazil’s population is part of the middle class.
Pakistan launched a zero hunger action plan based on the Brazilian model in March this year and on Monday a Pak-Brazil seminar was held in Islamabad to share knowledge and expertise from the Brazilian experience.
The seminar, jointly organised by the Embassy of Brazil and the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, featured five Brazilian experts who briefed participants about Brazilian policies on food and nutritional security, family agriculture and food procurement.
Mariana Lima, a specialist on public policies, mentioned the insurance policies for farmers in Brazil as a pillar of the Brazilian policy on food and nutritional security. Vicente Puhl, another expert, talked about the food procurement programme in Brazil where the government buys food from local farmers and provides it to people who are food insecure.
During one of the technical sessions, Cassia Amaral explained how Brazil improved market access for small farmers through a school feeding programme. Amaral, who works for Brazil’s ministry of education, said that under the programme, the state feeds students at public schools with 30% of the product from local “family farmers.”
Brazil’s programme utilises inter-ministerial, inter-state and inter-municipal cooperation and integration, and the lessons from this approach could be essential in post-18th amendment in Pakistan, said Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) representative Kevin Gallagher.
Like Pakistan, where almost half of rural households do not own any land, Brazil also faces issues such as landless farmers and concentration of land. Lima said that Brazil is tackling these issues by financing landless farmers so they can buy land and form cooperatives.
Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) Chairman Iftikhar Ahmed said Brazil and Pakistan have a similar cultural, agricultural and political landscape and Pakistan can draw lessons from Brazil’s example of focussing on small and landless farmers. “In order to overcome food security and poverty alleviation challenges, we would need to work on two fronts: land reforms and policies to facilitate small farmers.”
Responding to a question about the role of women in decision making at various levels of governance to improve food security, the Brazilian experts said the money under the Brazilian family allowance programme is handed to the women in the families, so they feel empowered. They added that projects under Brazil’s food acquisition programme are only approved if they have 40 per cent women involvement.
“It is widely accepted that the biggest obstacle to a food secure world is not the production of food, but the distribution and distortive market mechanisms, such as protectionist policies and subsidies adopted by many developed countries,” said Brazilian Ambassador Alfredo Leoni. He said international cooperation, multilateral activism and the development of well-structured social protection policies are the formula to face the challenge.
Nazar Muhammad Gondal, federal minister for Capital Administration and Development, said Pakistan’s agriculture suffered during the 2010 and 2011 floods with over Rs280 billion in damages to crops and livelihoods. But the government is trying to overcome the setbacks by investing Rs1,247 billion in poverty reduction programmes, as well as helping the poor through the Benazir Income Support Programme. He said the government is looking to collaborate with civil society and international organisations to improve food security in the country.
Agriculture and food security situation
An estimated 102 million Pakistanis, or three out of every five, do not get sufficient food to eat.
Agriculture contributes to one-fifth of Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs 45 per cent of the labour force.
Livestock contributes to 11 per cent of the Pakistani economy.
Half of rural households do not own land.
Top 5 per cent of the population own one-third of the total cultivated area.
Small farms constitute 88 per cent of all agricultural farms and 57 per cent of total farm area.
Pakistan’s Zero Hunger Programme
Pakistan’s zero hunger programme, based on the Brazilian model, aims at reaching a total of 61 million people across Pakistan. With a budget of $1.6 billion, the programme aims to reduce malnutrition and food insecurity through several interventions.
These include stimulus programmes to expand farm outputs and market access, targeted and conditional social safety nets and conditional cash and food transfers to the most food insecure households.
Most importantly, the programme would start school feeding projects in 45 most food insecure districts. It would also open “zero hunger shops” in urban slums and rural areas of these districts, which would provide subsidized items to the programme’s beneficiaries.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2012. 

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