Empowering Local Farmers to End Hunger
Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet, is an avid believer that a democracy that can empower its citizens to become involved in providing the community’s life essentials may be just want society needs to address the urgent issue of hunger.
In Brazil, Belo Horizonte, the fourth largest city, is an example of a community that has involved its citizens in the design and implementation of a new food system. Motivated by statistics such as 11% of the population living in poverty and 20% of the city’s children going hungry, mayor Patrus Ananias launched a new “food-as-a-right” policy, which focused on food security for all. Initiatives such as allocating public space for the sale of fresh produce from local farmers helped address the interests of farmers as well as the public. Farmers were able to bypass costly wholesaler and distribution costs, while being offered prime retail space in urban areas. The public, in turn, has easy access to inexpensive, high-quality, locally-grown foods.
Today, 34 “ABC” markets – “food at low prices” – exist in Belo Horizonte. The city is involved in setting below-market prices for about 20 foods offered at these markets, presenting shoppers with low-cost options of locally-grown, healthy, fresh products. Vendors are allowed to sell all other products at market prices. In order to secure a spot at an “ABC” market, the farmers must also commit to transporting and offering their produce to poor neighborhoods outside of the city center.
Other initiatives that stemmed from the “food-as-a-right” policy were: the creation of “People’s Restaurants,” serving about 12000+ people each day with 50-cent meals made from locally-grown foods, facilitating the development of urban gardens throughout communities and schools, and educating the public about nutrition and food prices. Additionally, federal funds spent on school lunches are now allocated to local farmers, versus processed, packaged foods.
In most communities, public policy is currently ineffective in addressing issues surrounding the food supply and hunger, but Belo is an example that solutions exist when communities and government work together in mutual respect. Adriana Aranha, former manager within the Belo city agency that administers the “food-as-a-right” policy, states, “We’re showing that the state doesn’t have to provide everything, it can facilitate. It can create channels for people to find solutions themselves.” (Yes Magazine)
In Belo, the unified effort of the community has been a strong foundation for this public effort to end hunger. This concept of community and supporting each other’s food needs is innate in human nature, and it is only during the last few thousand years that we’ve converted to a more selfish disposition. The city’s initiatives now benefit about 40% of the city’s 2.5 million inhabitants, while costing it only 2% of its annual budget. Aranha adds, “Everyone in our city benefits if all of us have access to good food, so—like health care or education—quality food for all is a public good.” (Yes Magazine)
Here in the United States, the richest country in the world, in 2010, about 15% of households in the US, or 1 in 7, were “food insecure”, and almost 1 in 5 children are at a risk of hunger (worldhunger.org). In the US, the National School Lunch Program offers low-cost or free lunches to 31 million children each day (USDA). Yet, about 96 billion pounds of food is thrown out by retailers, restaurants and households in the US each year (USDA). And as the economy deteriorates and food prices rise, this will become an even more pressing issue.
In the complex and well-populated world that we live in today, it is difficult to find solutions to basic problems such as hunger, and even more difficult to balance private sector interests with government influence into ‘free’ markets. Perhaps an example can be taken from Belo Horizante where the government simply opened some doors and empowered local farmers to meet the needs of the community.
Read more articles by Anna Hunt.
About the Author
Anna Hunt is writer, yoga instructor, mother of three, and lover of healthy food. She’s the founder of Awareness Junkie, an online community paving the way for better health and personal transformation. She’s also the co-editor at Waking Times, where she writes about optimal health and wellness. Anna spent 6 years in Costa Rica as a teacher of Hatha and therapeutic yoga. She now teaches at Asheville Yoga Center and is pursuing her Yoga Therapy certification. During her free time, you’ll find her on the mat or in the kitchen, creating new kid-friendly superfood recipes.
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