Tue, Jul 09, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Brazilian lessons to fight hunger in Africa

Former Brazilian president Inacio Lula da Silva says subsistence agriculture must be abolished for African countries to end hunger

By Liz Ford  /  The Guardian, ADDIS ABABA

Illustration: Yusha

Subsistence agriculture must be abolished if African countries want to eradicate hunger by 2025, the former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told a meeting in Addis Ababa two weeks ago.

In a rousing speech to open a conference of African ministers and international leaders, Lula said Africa could end hunger if there was enough political will to embed the needs of poor people in national policy.

“It’s necessary for us to put in the minds and hearts of people to produce ... [and] have access to technology and modern machinery to increase their productivity. Brazil overcame this idea that citizens only grow for their subsistence. They have to have excess to sell,” he told the conference at the African Union.

Drawing on Brazil’s Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) program, Lula said his country’s successes could be repeated elsewhere. However, to do this, poor people must be included in national budget plans and their needs seen as investments rather than an extra state expense.

“It is possible and it is within our reach to eradicate hunger in Brazil and in African countries and any other place in the world,” he said. “[Tackling poverty] should become government policy, it should not be ad-hoc policy or something for electoral campaigns.”

“Economists will not include the poor in budgets because it takes a while to give a return on the investment, but there is no other way to have poverty relief if we don’t include the poor [in policy],” he said.

Under his eight-year presidency, Brazil’s economy grew at an average annual rate of 5 percent, poverty levels dropped — more than 20 million Brazilians have come out of extreme poverty since 2003 — and 20 million jobs were created. Smallholder farmers were supported with seeds and credit lines, and 50 million people benefited from the cash transfer scheme Bolsa Familia.

Lula said it is because people know what is possible that riots have erupted across Brazil in the past few weeks.

Jose Graziano da Silva, Lula’s former colleague in government and now director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told delegates: “We must look beyond the simple increase in food production. Producing more is very important, but it is not enough. We need to address the many issues that keep people from being food secure, including lack of access to food.”

“Investing in agriculture remains the single most effective way to provide opportunities for families and improve nutrition. We also need to strengthen social protection methods,” he said.

The conference was convened by the FAO, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the Lula Institute under the banner: “Toward African renaissance: renewed partnership for a unified approach to end hunger in Africa by 2025.”

It concluded with a declaration apparently designed to get greater political commitment to improve agricultural productivity and address underlying social factors that contribute to poor nutrition, such as lack of access to healthcare and credit. The declaration will reaffirm government commitments, including the 2003 Maputo declaration and encourage more partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society. It aims to complement, and renew commitment to, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) to improve food security, which came out of the Maputo declaration.

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