The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Brazilian City Eliminates Hunger

with 5 comments

For only 2% of its budget!
clipped from

Belo Horizonte People's Restaurant Photo
Restaurant Popular (People’s Restaurant) by Bruno Spada/MDS
Back in 1993, the newly elected city government of Belo Horizonte, Brazil declared that food was a right of citizenship. At that time, the city of 2.5 million had 275,000 people living in absolute poverty, and close to 20 percent of its children were going hungry. Since the declaration the city has all but wiped out hunger and only spends 2% of the city budget to do so.

Article continues: Brazilian City Makes Food A Basic Right And Ends Hunger
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My friend Lexica over at Clipmarks took up this discussion with someone who wrote in about food banks. A quote from the food banks commenter is first (emphases are mine):

Community food banks along with local produce farms and co-ops are a help for local needy persons in US as well. Tho not organized by the gov’t, it makes fresh goods more available and surplus goods are distributed by food banks or charitable organizations. The food banks are always in need and always welcome volunteers and contributions. It has NOT eliminated hunger here.

One of the main reasons that Belo Horizonte has been able to eliminate hunger is precisely because it was organized by the government:

View of Belo Horizonte.
Belo Horizonte; Image via Wikipedia

The new mayor…began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system. The city already involved regular citizens directly in allocating municipal resources—the “participatory budgeting” that started in the 1970s and has since spread across Brazil. During the first six years of Belo’s food-as-a-right policy, perhaps in response to the new emphasis on food security, the number of citizens engaging in the city’s participatory budgeting process doubled to more than 31,000. The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers.

If they were trying to get along with the same old disorganized, uncoordinated efforts based on the premise that feeding others is a charitable act (like we do in the US), I doubt they’d have gotten the results they have. (Infant mortality & malnutrition both down 50%, citizen political participation up by 2x, and it’s the only locality in Brazil where fruit & veg consumption went up.)

This food effort isn’t considered charity or a good deed in Belo Horizonte. Food is considered a right of citizenship. That difference in orientation makes a big difference.

Link to the original story since it’s fallen off TreeHugger‘s front page.

Right on, Lex.  Volunteer giving will never be sufficient alone.  The USA in recession tells the story:  giving to not-for-profits (and we assume, giving generally) has plummeted.  Thus, in times when more people need help, less help is available.  We can do better, but it’s going to have to be more than do-goodism to us.

Maybe duty is more like it.  Bravo, Belo!

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Written by Monte

March 17, 2009 at 3:11 pm

5 Responses

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  1. I just referred someone to this post, so I thought I’d re-read the original article… and the comments over there are interesting. Apparently, the city of BH hasn’t quite eliminated hunger, to the extent that they’ve asked the original authors to change their headline, as it’s misleading!

    Still, an interesting experiment to read about.

    Rich Schmidt

    April 22, 2009 at 4:23 pm

  2. Good thoughts, Joe! I’m sure we have not yet dreamed what we could really do if we took Jesus’ priority of being among and caring for the poor as one of our first works, rather than a sideline. I think we’ve been sidelined by our 16th-century view of the gospel, that tells us it’s primarily about being ready for heaven. Jesus was far different – even going so far as to tell his disciples that the nations would be judged by their faithfulness to the poor among them, rather than their doctrinal accuracy!

    Monte Asbury

    March 19, 2009 at 7:57 pm

  3. I agree with your conclusions, Monty, but I have to wonder …

    The reason that government can accomplish this is because it’s large, pervasive, and has the necessary financial and human resources.

    If the church were less fragmented, or if Christian leaders were more organized, COULD we accomplish the same thing? I will grant that we will never be as well funded as the government, but we WOULD, if united, be pervasive and rich in human resources.

    Perhaps if charity and philanthropy were more of a focus? If we spent less on camps and buildings and parties and fellowship halls, and we organized around a central organization?

    I dunno, I’m asking, not telling. Food for thought.

    At any rate, I agree that there’s no reason for the government NOT to do this, that is well positioned TO do this, and that it should be a function of any society that wants to be judged to care about all of it’s people.

    Joe Hayes

    March 19, 2009 at 10:52 am

  4. Maybe our town just hasn’t been hit as hard by the recession… but the food pantry where I volunteer has more food in its storage room than it’s ever had in my 2 years of volunteering there.

    Still, thanks for the link to an interesting idea!

    Rich Schmidt

    March 18, 2009 at 6:31 pm

  5. […] Original post: Brazilian City Eliminates Hunger […]

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