The issue of food and nutritional security must be faced squarely, given the urgency of the problem. Hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings - perhaps even more than a billion - are suffering from hunger and malnutrition, their lives marred by the denial of what is universally recognised as a basic human right: the right to adequate food.
Brazil has vast experience with the question of food and nutritional security. For a long time, we have lived through the paradox of being a nation with extraordinary agricultural resources and yet with millions of people facing hunger and malnutrition.
Fortunately, Brazil is now reaping significant results from a concerted effort to reduce poverty and eradicate hunger. Over the last several years, we have made important progress, as almost 40 million people were lifted out of poverty since 2003, with a major reduction in socioeconomic inequality.
Brazil still has a long way to go. But it is moving forward rapidly.
President Dilma Rousseff has made putting an end to extreme poverty a main priority for the Brazilian government. The initiative she launched in 2011 - “Brazil without Extreme Poverty” - seeks to provide a minimal income to those Brazilians who still face a situation of serious vulnerability.
The problem of food security is also increasingly a part of Brazil’s foreign policy agenda. There is no development worthy of the name if it does not include social justice and food security, and not just for a single country, but for all people in all countries.
We know that sustainability is the key word. In that sense, the Rio+20 Conference was a turning point. Concern over food security was a central issue in the debates and deliberations in Rio de Janeiro.
In Rio, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched what he called the “Zero Hunger Challenge”, with five fundamental goals: universal access to food, reduction of child malnutrition, the doubling of the productivity of micro-producers, promotion of sustainable food chains, and, lastly, the reduction of waste.
The trade-related aspects of food security are also of the utmost importance for Brazil and for many other developing countries. That is why the Rio+20 document underscored the role of international trade, on the basis of a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system, and included trade-distorting subsidies in the list of issues that must be addressed.
In Brazil’s view, it is crucial to consider food and nutritional security together with agricultural trade issues. Protectionism in developed countries has been threatening food security in developing countries, as it hinders agricultural production and discourages investment in the rural sector. Moreover, it is extremely detrimental to the development of global trade chains involving agricultural goods, which could contribute to increasing world food and nutritional security.
Brazil also exemplifies the fact that sustainable food and nutritional security is inconceivable without significant progress in agricultural productivity. The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) continues to make a significant contribution to this effort, not only in Brazil, but also more and more in cooperation with other countries.
Another point is the central role of what we in Brazil call “family agriculture” - the smallholder farmers. The Brazilian government has been implementing a strong program to support small and poor farmers by ensuring them access to credit, technical assistance, crop insurance and marketing options, including through government purchases. The emphasis on this kind of agriculture is one of the drivers of the “More Food for Africa” project, which Brazil is carrying out with African countries.
In Africa, alongside the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Brazil is also developing the “Purchase from Africans for Africa” program, by which the produce from household agriculture is bought for school feeding programs through the World Food Program, thus creating a virtuous circle of better nutrition, better learning and local development.
We have been sharing these and other experiences of virtuous circles with our partners in Latin America through regional meetings such as the Specialized Meeting on Household Agriculture of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUL), which allows us to share our best practices in regards to sustainable food production and nutritional security.
Finally, we must stress the importance of enhancing food security in the context of the serious threats posed by climate change. Adaptation to climate change is a priority, particularly for developing countries, and a major part of adaptation refers to ensuring conditions for agricultural production at a level that ensures food security.
We must continue enhancing social protection and access to food. This will increase demand while making it urgent to increase production. So we must continue, at the same time, to work on agricultural research to enhance productivity, as well as on investment and on the strengthening of smallholder agriculture. We must also effectively tackle the problem of rich-country subsidies, which distort trade and threaten the development of agriculture in poorer countries.
In the words of the Brazilian scholar Josué de Castro, we will not have peace if half of the population does not sleep because they are hungry and the other half stays awake out of fear of those who have nothing to eat. Peace will be attained only when we ensure that the right to food is a human right that has to be protected, promoted and provided everywhere and for everyone.
Antônio de Aguiar Patriota