Brazil’s Zero Hunger Programme could be a model for Pakistan

Islamabad – Pakistan could not have asked for help from a better source when it comes to food security and poverty alleviation in the country.

In 2003, Brazil came up with a “Zero Hunger Programme” to tackle the severe 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, interventions and smaller initiatives.

The programme has helped enhance income levels, created jobs and improved health and educational conditions. Its family allowance component, with monthly cash transfers to the poorest families, is the world’s largest conditional cash transfer programme. As a result, today more than 55 per cent of Brazil’s population is part of the middle class.

Pakistan launched its very own zero hunger action plan based on the Brazilian model in March 2012 and on Monday, a Pak-Brazil seminar was held in Islamabad to share the knowledge and expertise from the Brazilian experience.

The seminar on food security and poverty alleviation was jointly organised by the Embassy of Brazil in Islamabad and the Ministry of National Food Security and Research.

It featured five Brazilian experts who briefed the participants about Brazilian policies on food and nutritional security, family agriculture and food procurement. They also talked about Brazil’s national school feeding programmes and social participation to eradicate hunger and poverty.

The experts will hold bilateral talks with their Pakistani counterparts on Tuesday and Wednesday

During the first of two technical sessions, Cassia Amaral explained that Brazil has improved market access for small farmers through a school feeding programme. Amaral, a public officer who works for Brazil’s ministry of education, said under the programme, the state feeds students at public schools with 30 per cent of the product from local “family farmers.”

Through presentations, the experts shed light on the pillars of Brazilian national policy on food and nutritional security. For example, Mariana Lima, a specialist in public policies and governmental administration who also works for Brazil’s ministry of agrarian development, mentioned the insurance policies for farmers in Brazil. And 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.

The presentations showed a collaborative effort between civil society and different tiers of government in Brazil which led to the success of the zero hunger programme.

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 Pakistan, said Kevin Gallagher, Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) representative  in Islamabad.

Iftikhar Ahmed, chairman of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), said Brazil and Pakistan have a similar cultural, agricultral and political landscape,

“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,” Ahmed told The Express Tribune, after the first technical session.

Responding to a question about 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.

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 told The Express Tribune that Brazil’s government has tried to tackle these issues by financing landless farmers so they can buy land.

“The farmers can produce in small areas and form a cooperative with other small farmers to sell their produce,” she said. “There is qualitative evidence that the landless small farmers’ lives have improved (because of this strategy).”

Earlier, the seminar opened in typical bureaucratic fashion with a slew of speeches from ministers and government officials.

Major General  Tauqee Ahmed, Managing Director of Pakistan Agricultural Storage & Services Corporation Limited (PASSCO), said food security is no longer a local issue, rather its implications transcend boundaries. He said Pakistan has surplus quantities of wheat and rice but still has food insecurity.

“The question is not of availability of food,” he said. “The question is, perhaps, of accessibility.”

Brazil’s ambassador to Pakistan, Alfredo Leoni, said distribution and market mechanisms hinder food security and efforts on three fronts were needed to improve food security.

“It is widely accepted that the biggest obstacle to a food secure world is not the production of food, but the distribution and market mechanisms, such as protectionist policies and subsidies adopted by many developed countries,” Leoni said. “International cooperation, multilateral activism and the development of well-structured social protection policies are the formula to face this massive challenge.”

Nazar Muhammad Gondal, federal minister for Capital Administation and Development Division (CADD), said Pakistan’s agricultural suffered during the 2010 and 2011 floods with over Rs280 billion in damages to to crops and livelihood. But the government is trying to overcome the setbacks from natural disasters 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.

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.

The programme interventions 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.

Pakistan: Important statistics

– An estimated 102 million Pakistanis, or three out of every five people, 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.  (All three bullet points via Ministry of Food Security and Research)

–  Half of rural households do not own land

–  Top 5 per cent own one-thirds of cultivated area

– Small farms constitute 88 per cent of the total number of all agricultural farms and 57 per cent of total farm area (Last three bullet points via National Peasants Coalition of Pakistan)

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