Sunday, March 15, 2009

The City That Wiped Out Hunger

Restaurant Popular (People's Restaurant) by Bruno Spada/MDS
Some people’s definition of Utopia is a place where there is no hunger. If this were the single defining quality of Utopia, then Belo Horizonte, Brazil may very well be that place.

In 1993, the newly-elected city government of Belo Horizonte made food a right for its citizenry. This would be no mean feat for the city of 2.5 million. The logistics were overwhelming with 275,000 people living in abject poverty and close to 20% of the city’s children hungry. However, they have nearly reached their goal using only 2% of the city budget to finance the undertaking. How do they do it?!

The new mayor, Patrus Ananias, began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the realization of this new food distribution system.

Frances Moore Lappé (author of Diet For A Small Planet) says in an article for the Spring edition of Yes! Magazine: (Here is a link to the home page of Yes!. There a lot of “green” articles online. Definitely worth a look!!)

The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers. It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce-which often reached 100 percent-to consumers and the farmers. Farmers' profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.

It is not clear whether the family farmers pay any sort of tax on the public spaces; but the “ABC” markets do. ABC is the Portuguese acronym for “food at low prices”. Entrepreneurs are given the chance to bid on high-traffic plots of land to sell their produce. The winners agree to sell approximately 20 healthy food items (as determined by the city agency) for about ¾ of the market price. These food items are usually bought from in-state farmers and chosen by store owners. The rest of the produce they sell may be sold at full market value. In addition, every weekend they are to take a fully-loaded produce truck to the poorest areas of town so even those unable to reach the markets have access to good, healthy food.

Three large-scale "People's Restaurants" (Restaurante Popular) serve nutritious meals to 12,000 people a day. These meals cost the equivalent of $0.50; but, no one is ever asked to prove they are poor.

Again, from the article in Yes! Magazine:

Belo’s food security initiatives also include extensive community and school gardens as well as nutrition classes. Plus, money the federal government contributes toward school lunches, once spent on processed, corporate food, now buys whole food mostly from local growers.

In just a decade Belo Horizonte cut its infant death rate—widely used as evidence of hunger—by more than half, and today these initiatives benefit almost 40 percent of the city’s 2.5 million population. One six-month period in 1999 saw infant malnutrition in a sample group reduced by 50 percent. And between 1993 and 2002 Belo Horizonte was the only locality in which consumption of fruits and vegetables went up.
Ryerson University in Toronto is offering a summer course that includes a week long field trip to Belo Horizonte to meet with key stakeholders that keep the city food secure.

As Lappé says, "Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy."

This earth has the capacity to produce enough food to feed everyone on the plant adequately and nutritionally. The problem is with the people who distribute it or not…

What can we do? We can send a copy of the original article and/or send an email to every level of government in our country asking why our city/province/state/district/etc. cannot do the same.

It’s not as expensive as one would think to wipe out hunger. When the all the books were balanced; the totals tallied; and the beans crunched; it cost every resident of Belo Horizonte, Brazil the grand total of one cent per day per resident. Looking at it another way: every resident paid $3.65 a year to wipe out hunger in their city. How cheap is that!?

1 comment:

KathiMac said...

I just sent this to our Mayor. He's been working on a site for the homeless and this could be helpful info! TKs, P!!