Nutrition-sensitive agriculture in the Brazilian social policies: providing an integrated framework for health and social inclusion

Nutrition-sensitive agriculture in the Second International Conference on Nutrition

Policy coherence for nutrition-sensitive agriculture was one of the main topics discussed at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (Rome, 2014). According to the Conference, nutrition-sensitive agriculture is a food-based approach to agricultural development that puts nutritionally-rich foods, dietary diversity, and food fortification at the heart of overcoming malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. Recognition of the nutritional value of food and of the agricultural sector supporting rural livelihoods are remarkable traces of this approach, the main goal of which is to make the global system more efficient in producing good nutritional results[1].

In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly approved a Brazilian proposal and declared the Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025). The resolution approved recognizes the need to eradicate hunger and to prevent all forms of malnutrition through implementing cross-sectoral coordination in the United Nations, regional, and local systems for broad-end comprehensive action[2].

Linking family farming, school feeding and agroecology

The bridge between agriculture and nutrition is a key feature of policies developed in Brazil. The practical connections between these two fields were socially constructed through a systemic and intersectoral institutional approach. For this purpose, family farming has been valued as means of supplying fresh, diversified and agro-ecologically produced goods, while generating income in rural areas. This link can occur even when agribusiness is dominant in the national territory, as long as a space in the political scenario for family agriculture exists, for example, through the support for short circuit production markets (Malut et al. 2015). 

Created in 2003 as one of the instruments to combat hunger, the Program for Food Acquisition from Family Farming (PAA in Portuguese) uses the State’s purchasing power to promote an institutional market that favors the direct acquisition of products from family farmers, agrarian reform settlements, indigenous and other traditional communities for forming strategic stocks and distribution to population in social vulnerability through governmental social programs. Thus, PAA combines income generation for poor families, stimulating family farming and agro-ecological production (with an increase in the value of payment of agro ecological products by 30%).

Advantages of this type of policy include access to healthier and more diversified foods with a greater quantity of fresh products, less waste, more sustainable use of supply, lower transportation costs and energy savings. Likewise, the National School Feeding Program (PNASE in Portuguese), as well as the synergy it has with PAA, are also relevant references of Brazil's Food and Nutritional Security Policy[3]. PAA is a complex program, currently there are six PAA modalities: Simultaneous Donation, Direct Purchase, PAA Milk, Seed Acquisition, Inventory Formation and Institutional Purchases, in which organizations managed by the government buy food from family farming using their own resources. In operational terms, PAA has shown progress by simplifying administrative procedures and consolidating the integrated management of the entire process through the Food Acquisition Program System, which provides direct payment to beneficiary producers via a specific bank card.

The relationship between the National School Feeding Program and PAA has been strengthened through a legal framework. An example of which was the legal establishment that 30% of the food purchased by the National School Feeding Program should come from family agriculture. In 2015, a Decree extended this mandatory percentage for all Federal agencies that buy food, such as hospitals, university restaurants, etc. PNASE, implemented in 1955, is managed by the National Fund for the Development of Education and serves all students of public basic education in the country. The Program’s reach  has increased in the last twenty years from about 33 million in 1995 to 42 million students in 2014 (FNDE, 2015: 9). According to school feeding directives, the program is universal, based on varied food delivery, respect for culture, traditions and healthy eating habits, food and nutritional education and social participation to control and monitor implementation.

In line with these developments, in 2011, Brazil launched The Plan to Overcome Obesity and Overweight. In addition, in 2012, a governmental Decree was launched to regulate the National Policy on Agroecology and Organic Production. The Seed Biofortification Program promoted by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA - in Portuguese) in partnership with the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation and the World Bank is also officially mentioned as an action towards better nutrition. From 2009 to 2013, about two thousand families of farmers were reached with biofortified crops in five Brazilian states.[4]

Challenges and perspectives

The National Council for Food and Nutritional Security (Consea in Portuguese) has among its legal attributions to advise the Brazilian government´s national and international actions. For the International Conference on Nutrition, Consea recommended attention to the need to ensure that policy coordination and implementation is under governmental responsibility; the creation and implementation of international measures to combat the volatility of food prices and speculation around commodities; the effective social participation through mechanisms that promote the presence of those affected by hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity;  the strengthening of capacities in States, social movements and organizations that are interested in combating hunger and malnutrition; and the prohibition of business sector participation in the decision-making process and implementation of international and national strategies and policies.

At the national level, the Council emphasized that, despite advances, the country now faces the serious consequences of inadequate feeding, the increase consumption of ultra-processed products, agrochemicals and transgenic contamination and an increasingly sedentary life. As a consequence, the Brazilian population is experiencing an overweight and obesity epidemic and suffering from other diseases caused by food imbalances such as cancers, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular problems. Consea also expressed concern about the risks related to food biofortification, such as the use of transgenic technology, threats to creole seeds and family farmer´s dependence on biofortified seeds (Consea, 2014). This concern shows that food fortification is a non-consensual topic in the nutrition debate.

A nutrition-sensitive approach aims to have a positive impact on health, including learning potential. In order to achieve this goal, the FAO’s strategy for combating malnutrition supports a holistic approach, which incorporates explicit nutrition objectives into agriculture, health, education, economic and social protection policies in developing countries (FAO, 2014). In this scenario, Brazil is an important partner for South-South cooperation having knowledge sharing in social protection as a main field of action.

This blog post is published as part of the Ambassador Series, which presents insights into social protection around the world from the viewpoint of our Ambassadors, a group of international online United Nations Volunteers who support the online knowledge exchange activities, networking and promotion of socialprotection.org.

Other references

Consea, 2014. A Agenda de Nutrição nas Estratégias Internacionais: Iniciativas em Andamento, Desafios e Propostas. Contribuições para debate no Conselho Nacional de Segurança Alimentar e Nutricional. Brasília, 06 de março de 2014.

FNDE. 2015. Cartilha Nacional da Alimentação Escolar. Brasília: FNDE.

Maluf, Renato, et al. 2015. Nutrition-sensitive agriculture and the promotion of food and nutrition sovereignty and security in Brazil. Ciência & Saúde Coletiva. 20(8): 2303-2312.

Banner image: Dênio Simões/Agência Brasília. Farmers’ market (CEASA), Distrito Federal, Brazil, 2015 <https://goo.gl/sZ7V7x>.

[1] Second International Conference on Nutrition 19-21 November 2014.  Nutrition-sensitive agriculture. http://www.fao.org/3/a-as601e.pdf.

[2] Assembleia Geral da ONU proclama Década de Ação sobre Nutrição (2016-2025). https://nacoesunidas.org/assembleia-geral-da-onu-proclama-decada-de-acao...

[3] The Human Right to Adequate Food: Brazil’s rights-based development approach. http://socialprotection.org/learn/blog/human-right-adequate-food-brazil%...

[4] Plantas biofortificadas têm alta produtividade e fornecem alimentos enriquecidos. https://www.embrapa.br/busca-de-noticias/-/noticia/2246805/plantas-biofo...

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