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English Report

Poverty, hunger, and the violation of the Human Right to Adequate Food remain a challenge to be faced by Brazilian society, especially regarding indigenous peoples, Quilombolas*, Afro descendents, populations in encampments, settled populations**, the homeless, street dwellers, and those who make a living out of garbage dumps. There are still millions of families who, in spite of getting a regular income supplement, are not inserted in the productive process in a sustainable manner, in order to ensure a dignified way of feeding themselves and their families.

Fome Zero***, National Policy for Nutrition and Food Security, and the promotion of the Human Right to Adequate Food

Flávio Luiz Schieck Valente[1]


Putting the Debate in Context

The idea of implementing a program centered on the fight against hunger and malnutrition was already a subject of intense debate among members of different social movements and academia in the period immediately preceding the 2002 elections, during the preparation of the electoral program of then-presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Since the beginning it was clear that there was a proposal advocated by the process coordinator, the future minister José Graziano, who wanted a program based on the creation of a Food Card or Ticket, inspired by the Food Stamps implemented in the United States during the II World War, and readopted from 1961 on. The central assumption was that the card could warm up local economies, especially commerce, stimulating family agriculture as well as agribusiness as food producers, and facilitating a wide range of alliances involving sectors of the agribusiness and of rural movements. To that central proposal were added several complementary programs such as the creation of popular restaurants in urban centers; the creation of food banks and food supply programs to strengthen the purchase of food directly from small farmers, which were also of interest for these sectors.

From another perspective, the National Movement for Nutrition and Food Security, centered on the Brazilian Forum for Nutrition and Food Security and engaging a wide set of social entities and movements that worked on the subject for at least two decades, proposed the fight against hunger in the context of a National Policy for Nutrition and Food Security that would articulate public policies toward assuring the Human Right to Adequate Food (HRAF) to all inhabitants of the national territory.

There was a big difference between the two proposals. The first one put the fight against hunger in the context of ensuring access to food, within the limits of a compensatory policy, and not approaching adequately the issue of adequate food, nutrition, food security, and the impact of economic policies on nutrition and food security. The second proposal, on the other hand, suggested the fight against hunger should be an integral part of a review of the development model, promoting it in the context of assuring the Human Right to Adequate Food and of social inclusion, i.e., combined with the promotion of sustainable diversified family agriculture, agrarian reform, investments in basic infrastructure (sanitation, habitation, etc.), nutrition, food harmlessness, and quality of life for the whole population.

The two positions also presented different proposals for the institutional arrangements toward coordination and implementation of the program or policy. The proposal centered on a Food Card suggested the creation of a Food Ministry, whereas the one based on a National Policy for Nutrition and Food Security pointed to the need for a Special Secretariat linked to the Presidency of the Republic, and able to coordinate policies and actions already developed or to be developed by different Ministries.

The final version of the Fome Zero project, launched on October 2001 under the title “Fome Zero Project: A Proposal for a Food Security Policy in Brazil,” incorporated ideas related to the promotion of the Human Right to Adequate food and to the preparation of a Policy for Food Security. In spite of that, the project that was actually implemented in the first year of the Lula Administration essentially followed the original proposal of José Graziano, then Extraordinary Minister for Food Security and the Fight Against Hunger (MESA [“table” in the Portuguese acronym]), concentrating on implementing the Food Card project, even as it included 41 initiatives.

After a year of many criticisms, MESA was extinct, and its activities were absorbed by the then recently created Ministry of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger (MDS, from the Portuguese acronym), in charge of finalizing the unification of the income transfer programs of the Family Scholarship Program, and also of coordinating Fome Zero. A strong resistance of the Special Secretariat also marked the first year of the administration for Human Rights [SEDH, in the Portuguese acronym] in participating more actively in the discussion about monitoring the Fome Zero program from the perspective of the promotion of the Human Right to Adequate Food. The SEDH understood its function as limited to the management of its own Human Rights programs, leaving to other ministries the task of incorporating the Human Rights dimension in their programs.


Fome Zero and Nutrition and Food Security: concepts and controversial proposal

One of the greatest improvements, which were negotiated as part of the Project Fome Zero, was the reinstitution of the National Council for Nutrition and Food Security (CONSEA, from the Portuguese acronym). It consists mostly of civil society representatives and social movements (two thirds), and its president is also a member of civil society. This Council is legally in charge of assisting the Presidency of the Republic on the fight against hunger and on the policy on Nutrition and Food Security (SAN, Portuguese acronym). The goal established by law[2] is to promote the achievement of the Human Right to Adequate Food. Councils of SAN were also created in most states, with similar functions to the National Council.

The year of 2004 marked a new moment in the process of debate of different political projects related to the Fighting Against Hunger. The debate that prepared for the II National Conference of SAN (II CNSAN, Portuguese acronym), which took place in March 2004, in Olinda, Brazil, preceded by municipal and state conferences, ended up deepening the discussion and directly influencing the coordination transition from MESA to MDS. The II CNSAN established as pillars of a National Policy for Nutrition and Food Security the promotion of Food Sovereignty and the Human Right to Adequate Food.

The conference market an inflexion point in the activities of the CONSEA as well as in the implementation of SAN’s public programs and the fight against hunger. Following the II CNSAN’s decisions, CONSEA deepened the debate on:

1.     The relationship between Fome Zero and a set of public policies directly and indirectly related to the promotion of SAN, and the need to incorporate the dimension of a citizen emancipation promotion in the initiatives of emergency food assistance.

2.     The preparation of the project of an Organic Law of Nutrition and Food Security, with the goal of promoting the implementation of the Human Right to Adequate Food, institutionalizing the process of creation of the National Policy for Nutrition and Food Security through the work of national, state and municipal conferences and councils, and establishing the creation of an inter-ministerial coordination for the implementation of the policy.

3.     The national budget, establishing mechanisms of participation in its designing, discussion in Congress, and monitoring of execution of the budget in what concerns programs and policies directly related to ensuring SAN and the HRAF.

4.     The building of a system to monitor the situation of Nutritional and Food Insecurity from the perspective of the Human Right to Adequate Food, with special attention to groups that are socially and biologically vulnerable.

5.     The continuous evaluation of the implementation of public policies related to SAN, including recommendations to the Presidency of the Republic and its ministries.

Debates inside CONSEA impacted the Fome Zero Workgroup, an inter-ministerial group linked to the Social Policies Chamber in the Casa Civil*, and even the MDS itself. In 2004 and 2005, it was built an understanding of Fome Zero not as a program or a policy but as “a strategy pushed by the federal government to ensure the Human Right to Adequate Food to people with difficult access to food. That strategy is inserted in the promotion of nutrition and food security, and aims at social inclusion and the conquest of citizenship by populations most vulnerable to hunger.”[3]

On the other hand, in the law project designed by a partnership between the government and the civil society in the context of CONSEA, the Nutrition and Food Security Policy incorporates the dimensions of food production, particularly in family agriculture; of food processing, industrialization, commercialization, and supply, including water; of job generation and income distribution; of biodiversity, and the promotion of health and nutrition; of food security, food education, and the promotion of healthy  food and of knowledge production, with the goal of promoting the implementation of the Human Right to Adequate Food.”[4]

After this introduction, the following sections will provide a detailed analysis of some aspects of the policy for fighting hunger in the context of nutrition and food security and from a human rights perspective.


Brazil and the priority for fighting hunger and malnutrition in an international context

The Lula Administration’s proposal to make fighting hunger a priority, through the implementation of public policies, was a complete about-face in the international situation of the consolidation of North-American hegemony, and of the economic development model managed by market forces. The proposition of the Brazilian government – to put the fighting of hunger as a priority on the international agenda – was well received in developing countries and even among developed countries that would like to distance themselves from the “war on terror” and strengthen a strategy of “war on hunger and poverty” as an alternative to the intensification of militarism and unilateralism.

Brazil took the leadership in designing and approving Volunteer Directives to the promotion of the implementation of the Right to Adequate Food, in the context of National Food Security[5], which were approved on November 2004 at FAO, in opposition to the US and its allies who refuse to recognize Economic, Social and Cultural Human Rights (ESCHR) as equal to civil and political rights.

More recently, with the support of France, Spain and Chile, among others, Brazil has been suggesting the creation of an International Fund to Fight Hunger and Poverty, which would be managed by the UN and would support initiatives for social inclusion and the fight against hunger and poverty in the poorest countries in the world. That proposal represents putting the ESCHR as one of the economic priorities of the international community. It is also in opposition to the hegemonic speech that puts development as a result of and at the service of the strengthening of market liberalization and the keeping of inequities.


Fome Zero, Public Policy for Nutrition and Food Security, the development model, and the implementation of the Human Right to Adequate Food.

The budget for programs incorporated to the Fome Zero strategy is growing every year: from R$ 5.7 billion in 2003 to R$ 12.3 billion in 2005.[6] Programs strengthened are income transference, In School Meals, healthy food promotion, support to family agriculture, job and income generation, support to indigenous food, food distribution in emergency situations, and others. In October 2005:

1.     Eight million families benefited from the Bolsa Família,* approximately 35 million people; expansion is planned to reach 11 million families by 2006;

2.     A raise of 38% per capita in the In School Meals Program, which reaches 37 million children and teenagers, after 10 years without change in the amount;

3.     Creation of a special food program for Quilombolas and Native Brazilians, with an amount per capita that is the double of the regular program.

Expenses with programs of a structural character are also increasing, such as Agrarian Reform and other components of the policy to support Family Agriculture, all integrated to the policies of SAN. These investments totaled R$ 28 billion** between 2003 and 2005.

In spite of all these improvements, poverty, hunger, and violations of the Human Right to Adequate Food are still an enormous challenge to be overcome by the Brazilian society, especially in relation to indigenous peoples, Quilombolas, Afro-descendents, camped populations, settled populations, the homeless, street dwellers and those who make a living out of garbage dumps. There are still millions of families who, in spite of getting a regular income supplement, are not inserted in the productive process in a sustainable manner, in order to ensure a dignified way to feed themselves and their families.

Most these problems result from the development model adopted and implemented through a set of fiscal, monetary, and macroeconomic policies, including those related to servicing the public debt, and even those targeted to support agribusinesses (soybean, sugar and alcohol, cattle industry etc.) and to strengthen the energy infrastructure and other megaprojects (steel works, transposition of the São Francisco River, etc.), which continue…

1.     … to expel a large contingent of small farmers, specially traditional populations, or even to unstructure their productive capacity, violating their human rights to food, water and land, among others;

2.     … to impose sub-human work conditions on rural workers, many times in situations similar to slavery, even in rich areas of the country, as in the sugar cane fields of the macroregion of Ribeirão Preto*, the Brazilian California;

3.     … to leave millions of Brazilians in a chronic condition of unemployment, subemployment, and in a terrible quality of life and housing in the periphery of large, medium and small cities, at the mercy of drug traffickers and organized crime;

4.     … to leave millions of Brazilian families without any access to basic public services, such as affordable housing, education, health, water supply, sanitation, and others.

The evaluation of the project National Rapporteurs ESCHR, included in the 2004 Report,[7] is that the joint impact of those megaprojects, in terms of human rights violations, is much larger than the occasional improvements obtained through the policies developed in the context of the Fome Zero strategy.

The National Report on the Human Right to Adequate Food, Water, and Rural Land identified these other obstacles to the implementation of the HRAF:

1.     A model that concentrates land and wealth;

2.     Submission to the impositions of the agreements with the FMI, and the Washington Consensus, which is clear in:

a.     A monetary and interest rate policy that stimulates the growth of the public debt, and inhibits economic development and job generation;

b.    A policy toward maintaining the warranty for the primary economic surplus with cuts in social programs and restrictions to infrastructure investments (housing, sanitation, etc.)

c.     The incentive to agribusiness to expand the monoculture of soybean and sugar and the extensive cattle industry for export

d.    The energy policy designed to attract international investments that dislocate thousands of families, destroying their production capacity and the guarantee of SAN to them.

3.     Non-protection of families against intimidation and practices of violence, including murder, by squatters, large landowners, loggers, developers, hydroelectric companies, steel industries, etc.

4.     Strong evidence of connivance of legislators and judges with hegemonic interests, especially at the local level.

5.     A persistent and strong paternalistic culture that does not recognize the population as a rights holder, and the public managers as obligations and duty holders. A culture of “favors” with public resources, in exchange for votes or even as a way to say “thanks,” still prevails in our society.

6.     Public programs such as the Bolsa Família, in spite of the human rights speech, are not seen yet as part of the implementation of the human rights of the families who benefit, who are still submitted to conditions or obligations that must be complied with by the families in order for them to stay in the program.

7.     A strong culture of discrimination of the Afro-descendent population, Quilombolas, Native Brazilians, special needs populations and other groups that are different from the norm because of personal characteristics or personal options.

8.     Lack of access to justice, criminalization of social movements and impunity.

9.     Lack of a clear definition of the role of different levels of government in regard to respect, protect, promote or provide the Human Right to Adequate Food.

From the perspective of the promotion and protection of human rights, and of the obligations attributed to the State by international human rights treaties and pacts (to respect, protect, promote and provide human rights), the Brazilian State is still taking its first steps in the dimension of:


1.     Providing, through programs such as the Bolsa Família, inexpensive restaurants, food banks, food distribution, among others; and

2.     Promoting, through programs such as In-school Meals, cisterns, community gardens, promotion of healthy food, agrarian reform, health program for the family, professional qualification, micro credit for production, financing of family agriculture, program for acquisition of food from family farmers, nutrition and food inspection, social mobilization, food education, among others.

However, such activities are not yet seen as part of the implementation of a people’s human right, as a result of the accomplishment of a State obligation (at the federal, state, and municipal levels). The result is that:


1.     The poorest and most excluded sectors of the population remain the least benefited by these programs, due to continuing paternalistic practices by politicians and public managers;

2.     The population is not yet adequately informed about its rights, and to whom they should complain when they are not complied with;

3.     Efficient mechanisms that would allow people offended in their rights to complain still do not exist;

4.     In the public sector, there is still a culture of “favors” and “exchange of favors.”

While programs for providing and promoting rights are not effectively combined with initiatives that, on one hand, reinforce the awareness of right entitlement, and, on the other, ensure effective inclusion of the poorest population among those with real access to a dignified quality of life, public services, and sustainable job opportunities and income generation, such programs will easily be politically kidnapped by new electoral initiatives that preserve the domination and dependence model that violates human rights.

Additionally, the obligations to respect and protect the Human Right to Food are the ones most violated by the Brazilian State, either as a result of submission to the directives of international financial institutions, or by the shameless assuring of privileges for the Brazilian economic and political elite, which privately uses public institutions and resources to keep and deepen its hegemony over the Brazilian economy and society, manipulating institutions of the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary branches to its own benefit.

The incommensurate power of the Central Bank, clearly allied to international economic interests and to national finance capital, annuls Fome Zero’s efforts at each decision to increase or maintain the basic interest rate, destroying jobs and generating unavoidable cuts in social investments and programs. Each decision of the Agriculture Ministry and the Social Development Ministry, both controlled by the agribusiness, to expand soybean and sugar cane (sugar and alcohol) monocultures, to support the expansion of the cultivation of crabs and other crustaceans and the cattle industry, each of these decisions leading to the destruction of the way and the conditions of life of thousands if not millions of families of small farmers, Quilombolas, traditional fishermen, Caiçaras* and agro-extractivists, expelling them from their traditional lands and waters and throwing them into the misery of urban and metropolitan periphery, in subhuman life conditions. The omission of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and for Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) in protecting the sources of rivers and preservation areas proves not only the destruction of ways of life but also the destruction of the rich biodiversity of the Brazilian territory, with the sole goal of accelerating quick profits in order to obtain the necessary dollars to pay the debt and enrich others.

The challenge, thus, presents itself in at least four main dimensions:

1.     Fight for the effective incorporation of the human rights principles in all governmental programs, strengthening the entitlement to rights, the accountability of public officers regarding the deliverance of State obligations established in human rights international treaties subscribed by Brazil, and the effective implementation of the right to require rights in the administrative, quasi-judicial and judicial spheres, whenever it is the case.

2.     Enhance social mobilization toward requiring reports on the impact of megaprojects on the human rights of affected populations, as a mechanism to prevent larger violations while we keep struggling to repair already committed violations.

3.     Intensify the debate on the public budget and require that the monetary policy and the allocation of public resources to the payment of public debt and, consequently, the establishment of a primary surplus, be the target of an ample debate in Brazilian society, thus rejecting the actual values as given facts and changing them into an object of the political decision of the population.

4.     Consolidate the national system of Human Rights, which consists of institutions for the promotion, protection and monitoring of the implementation of Human Rights, completely in consonance with the Paris Principles[8], which establish that Human Rights institutions must be publicly financed but also totally independent of the government and other State powers, able to issue final recommendations to the public and private sectors, i.e., without being submitted to any other instance of decision or legitimization.

At the same time, we have to face other identified obstacles, which will only be surmounted through an integrated work between social movements, human rights entities and organized civil society, on one side, and Attorney General offices at all levels (federal, state, municipal), on the other.

CONSEA’s preliminary analysis of the law project regarding 2006, sent to Congress by the Executive, noted a slight increase in the resources allocated to Fome Zero and SAN policies, a fairly good increase in the resources for the Bolsa Família program, and a significant reduction (about 20%) in the resources for structural programs such as basic sanitation, and support to the regularization of Quilombola lands’ titles, among others. This is certainly a result of the still hegemonic position of the government’s economic branches, which persist in limiting any investments in the promotion of social and human development.

Only with a significant increase in pressure by society, will the hegemonic groups that control Brazil start complying with their duties to promote Human Rights, to which they agreed on behalf of the Brazilian population. Our role, now, is to hold them accountable.

The implementation of the Fome Zero Strategy programs, and the promotion and protection of the Implementation of the Human Right to Food ,

Through 2004 and 2005, the Permanent Commission for the Promotion of the Human Right to Adequate Food, created by the national CONSEA in September 2004, has been developing a methodology to evaluate the implementation of programs and policies on Nutrition and Food Security from the perspective of the Human Right to Adequate Food. So far it has evaluated the National Program of School Meals and the Bolsa Família program, and found a series of practices that constitute violations of the HRAF.

Through a dialogue of the managers of the above-mentioned programs, the Commission presented the government with a set of recommendations and will evaluate their implementation in 2006. Besides presenting recommendations, the Commission has also been supporting managers in search of alternatives to overcome the problems identified.

Among the main problems identified in the National Program for School Meals (PNAE, acronym from the Portuguese) there are:


1.     PNAE does not serve all school age children and teenagers, not even all students, specially not those who live in encampments, settlements, Quilombola lands, and urban periphery areas;

2.     High school students are still not getting the PNAE;

3.     Regular student access to PNAE keeps being interrupted in towns where there was no accounting reports by the public managers, thus punishing children for government irregularities;

4.     There are no mechanisms available to students and their families to denounce possible violations of the HRAF and demand investigation and reparation;

5.     Children who have special food needs (diabetes and other illnesses) keep being discriminated and do not get adequate food to their condition.

For each of these problems, the program managers got recommendations for overcoming violation situations.

In the case of the Bolsa Família Program, these violation situations were found:

1.     The language of the materials and the practice of the program itself do not incorporate the human rights culture, thus reflecting a distancing between the political speech of HRAF promotion, and the implementation of the program.

2.     A tendency persists to not include in the program the most vulnerable populations, in part due to the limitations of the Cadastro Único,* but also due to the fact that municipal authorities do not actively search for these populations.

3.     In spite of a change in speech, the program does not show an objective intention of making the necessary changes to adapt itself to the special cultural characteristics of indigenous and traditional populations, including the Quilombolas, thus violating clauses of international treaties that require informed previous consent, and the implementation of differentiated and specific public policies.

4.     Conditions and requirements to allow access to the Bolsa Família program punish with exclusion the families who do not comply with them, whereas from the perspective of rights these families are entitled to health and education that should be provided by the State, not by the families themselves.

5.     No availability of appeal mechanisms to families who are entitled to the program, but don’t get it, or have not even been registered to get it.

No doubt the implementation of the HRAF requires, on one hand, a change in the economic model that keeps excluding sectors of the population from the benefits of development, and to implement that change the Brazilian government will have to ally itself to the Brazilian population and to other governments in order to confront national and international interests that oppose this project to build a fairer Brazil and world. On the other hand, the strengthening of mechanisms for demanding rights will increase the pressure by civil society and the social movements to pressure the State and the powers that be, reducing inequities at the micro level, and empowering people, groups, and communities to more effectively influence the fight for changes in the model, improving their quality of life at the same time. All fronts are important in the struggle.

* Translator’s Note: “Quilombolas” are the inhabitants of “quilombos,” a word that designates towns founded by fugitive slaves in past centuries. Many quilombos are still inhabited, and the Brazilian government has been officially recognizing the inhabitants’ property rights to the land occupied by their ancestors.

*** T.’s N.: literally “Zero Hunger”; it is the official government program to fight hunger in Brazil.

[1] Physician, FMUSP - 1972; Master of Public Health and Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, 1976. National Rapporteur for the Human Rights to Food, Water and Rural Land, of the Platform for Cultural, Social, and Economic Human Rights, supported by the UN Volunteer Program; Technical Coordinator for the Brazilian Action for Nutrition and Human Rights (ABRANDH, Portuguese acronym).

[2] Law # 10,683, May 28, 2003.

* T.’s N.: The Presidency of the Republic in Brazil has two sets of direct assistants to the President – the Casa Civil (literally Civil House), and the Casa Militar (Military House).

[3] ARANHA, A in:, as on 10/23/2005.

[4] Law project # 6047/2005 in, as on 10/23/2005.

[5] FAO, 2004 “Diretrizes Voluntárias para a promoção da realização progressiva do Direito à Alimentação Adequada, no contexto da Segurança Alimentar nacional”, in: as on 10/23/2005.

[6] MDS, 2005. “Mais verbas ano a ano” in: as on 10/23/2005. T.’s N.: as of 12/3/2005, US$ 2.5 billion and US$ 5.6 billion, respectively.

* T.’s N.: Literally Family Scholarship is a program that pays a certain amount to the family for each kid kept in school.

** T.’s N.: as of 12/3/2005, US$ 12.7 billion.

* T.’s N.: Ribeirão Preto is a city in the countryside of the state of São Paulo.

[7] ESCHR Platform, Relatorias Nacionais em Direitos Humanos Econômicos, Sociais e Culturais – Informe 2004. Plataforma DHESC, Rio de Janeiro, 2005.

* T.’s N.: Traditional coastal populations, usually descendents of Native Brazilians.

[8] United Nations. Paris Principles in:  Fact Sheet no. 19. National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.  High Commissioner for Human Rights. 1991.

* T.’s N.: “Cadastro Único” is a registration system.