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An opinion article by FAO-Director General José Graziano da Silva

Against Hunger
Originally published 23 May 2013 by Correio Braziliense

A decade of the Food Acquisition Program in Brazil (PAA) consolidated a tool in the fight against hunger in the country. It also developed a Brazilian ambassador for international cooperation for food security. The success of the programme, which now devotes more than U.S. $ 1 billion for the purchase of products generated by 400,000 families of small farmers, is based on a range of factors that were part of the original design of the Zero Hunger strategy.

The first of them is coming from an idea of forceful simplicity: harness the purchasing power of the State to the weakest link in the rural chain, family farmers and subsistence farmers. The second is the binding of PAA, coordinated by the Ministry of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger, with other policies through the umbrella of the Zero Hunger strategy. This ensured resources for PAA’s execution and endowed it with complementary institutional framework giving the initiative consistency and legitimacy.

The third factor is having recovered and expanded the network of the National Supply Company (Conab) to ensure the operability of the purchases from the producer. The fourth is having recognized that the diffuse capillarity of production in a country of continental dimensions would make impossible the implementation of this policy if it was not based in solid partnerships with states and municipalities. There was double interest on their part to participate: support the small local producer and channel the offer to service programmes of the municipality such as school feeding, which today purchases 30% of its products in local agriculture.

Initiatives such as these, together with the lever of credit to small farmers, were triggered by the Ministry of Agrarian Development to ensure the appropriate supply response. What has been done in these 10 years, therefore, was not work of chance. Rescuing public planning in such a core area like food security worked as a historical amalgamation, allowing the interconnection of this set of actions.

The success of the PAA from the points of view of food and nutrition security, of the strengthening of family agriculture, improving farmers’ income and of providing better and more diversified local production has passed beyond the borders of the country. Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Senegal implement pilto projects inspired by PAA – renamed Purchase from Africans for Africa – with the support of the government of Brazil, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme ( WFP) and the Department for International Development of the UK (DFID). 

To support the implementation of programs such as PAA, that allow for aggregating institutions and that contribute to addressing the problem of hunger in a more comprehensive and coordinated way was emphasized in the platform that anchored my candidacy for FAO. Important components that were added to the original formatting of the Brazilian programme have paved the dialogue between FAO and developing countries.

The association with the school feeding is one of them. This link has become a sort of egg of Columbus, widespread in Latin America and the Caribbean. In societies where rural poverty is a factor often linked to the lack of a market for family farming, and child malnutrition prevails, the implementation of PAA is the trick. It makes a difference, and the difference appears in a short time.

PAA also contributed to change the business model with which WFP – World Food Programme – responds to emergencies. The previous model combined buying food from developed countries to grant to poorer nations. Now, WFP has been testing local food purchases, adding to the income producing areas poor. Broaden the range of suppliers is necessary, but the focus on the local is already consolidated.

A final learning, which depends on the true coherence and effectiveness of the previous steps, refers to the democratic control from the society regarding the programme through the National Food Security and Nutrition Council (Consea) and a myriad of organized social movements, NGOs, representations and ombudsmen. This filter of engagement and representation gave the fight for food security a feature of ecumenical task force, capable of overcoming prejudices, organize and mobilize citizens and the state around what should be a society’s zero priority – the defense of life against hunger.

José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.