Former Director-General  José Graziano da Silva

FAO, Fome Zero and #ZeroHunger

Launched in 2003, Fome Zero, as its name implies, aimed to achieve the complete eradication of hunger and malnutrition in Brazil by tackling its underlying causes, chief among them poverty, and rural poverty in particular.

It created the biggest cash-transfer system ever deployed in the world and helped pull roughly a quarter of Brazil’s population out of hunger and extreme poverty. A mix of short, medium and long-term initiatives, Fome Zero harnessed a set of 31 interlocking, coordinated and mutually reinforcing programmes to achieve its objectives.

Recognizing Fome Zero’s potential from the outset FAO provided the programme with continuing support. Two weeks after Fome Zero’s launch on 30 January 2003, FAO announced it would contribute with financial and technical support. This followed a favorable report from an FAO team which worked alongside the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and Brazilian experts in reviewing Fome Zero’s design and individual components. 

FAO’s initial support to Fome Zero was centered on three technical cooperation projects, aimed respectively at adjusting internationally financed projects in support of Fome Zero; designing and running capacity-building courses to counter the effects of drought and bolster the profitability and productivity of the rural populations of northeastern Brazil; and offering technical consultation on urban and peri-urban agriculture, rural household agriculture, settlements and land reform.

Fome Zero reached tens of millions of Brazilians who saw their average income increase by some 20 percent through the cash transfers alone, while family farmers saw their incomes rise by 33 percent. Today, Fome Zero continues to resonate around the world, with some 100 governments manifesting interest in using a similar approach to end hunger and poverty in their own countries.

The experience built up by Brazil, and its achievements against hunger, have become a point of reference for other nations, generating high demand for bilateral or multilateral cooperation. FAO is proud to have been associated with this programme, and with the ongoing projects designed to replicate its success outside Brazil. 

Indeed, Fome Zero’s roots lie in the “twin-track approach” promoted by FAO for many years, and proposing a mix of both short and longer-term measures to achieve food security. Also central is the vision of food as a universal human right, a right first recognized by the United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948, enshrined in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security issued by the World Food Summit which FAO organized in 1996, and in FAO’s own Right to Food Guidelines, adopted by 187 countries in 2004. 

In successful partnerships, stakeholders learn from each other, and complement one another in achieving joint objectives. The story of how Fome Zero became “Zero Hunger” well illustrates the point.

In October 2005, Brazil and Guatemala proposed that Fome Zero could serve as a model for a ground-breaking initiative – freeing the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean from hunger and malnutrition. The proposal was subsequently endorsed by the 29 countries of the region and a 2025 target was set for the complete eradication of hunger in the region.

Total hunger eradication was a much more ambitious target than the one then being officially pursued by the United Nations. The first of the United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals, adopted in September 2000, was to halve the proportion of hungry people in the world by 2015.

The Latin American initiative inspired Mr Jacques Diouf, then Director-General of FAO, who warmly adopted the idea, because “halving hunger is not enough – it still leaves the other half hungry”. At the 2009 World Summit on Food Security in Rome, FAO called for an international commitment to totally eradicate hunger from the face of the earth by 2025

At the event, the Summit’s concluding declaration spoke only of an end to hunger “at the earliest date”. But three years later, in 2012, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon took up the challenge, addressing the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, and issued an urgent five-point “Zero Hunger Challenge” that called for the end of hunger and malnutrition in all its forms. He specifically cited Brazil as an example for others to follow. 

Another three years elapsed before, in 2015, Zero Hunger became the second of the UNs’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted unanimously in September of that year. SDG 2 aims to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” while SDG 1 aims to “End poverty, in all its forms, everywhere”.

That, in short, is how the Fome Zero vision, born in Brazil and strongly championed by FAO, came to be reflected in the United Nations new Sustainable Development Goals, thus helping motivate global commitment to and efforts in the eradication of hunger and poverty over the next 15 years.