If you only read one news item this week, make it this one. It’s the story of how Brazil’s fourth largest city moved to eradicate hunger, a great project, and a great piece of journalism highlighting it. At the time, this city of 2.5 million people was letting 20% of its children go to bed hungry. Not a pleasant thought. There are so many thought provoking quotes in this story. They really made me take a step back from my assumptions on how our society should work:

To search for solutions to hunger means to act within the principle that the status of a citizen surpasses that of a mere consumer.

Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy

So what did that mean on the ground?

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.

The city makes good food available by offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to bid on the right to use well-trafficked plots of city land for “ABC” markets, from the Portuguese acronym for “food at low prices.” Today there are 34 such markets where the city determines a set price—about two-thirds of the market price—of about twenty healthy items, mostly from in-state farmers and chosen by store-owners. Everything else they can sell at the market price.

I particularly liked their ideas for “keeping the market honest”:

They survey the price of 45 basic foods and household items at dozens of supermarkets, then post the results at bus stops, online, on television and radio, and in newspapers so people know where the cheapest prices are.

And that with the benefits of the programme come responsibilities. For the farmers who benefit from the best market spots:

Every weekend they have to drive produce-laden trucks to the poor neighborhoods outside of the city center, so everyone can get good produce.

Isn’t that a great solution to the availability of fresh food in under-served areas? The cost of these efforts must be high though?

Around US$10 million annually, or less than 2 percent of the city budget. That’s about a cent a day per resident.

And how better to end than with the emotional words of one of the programme’s managers:

“I knew we had so much hunger in the world, but what is so upsetting, what I didn’t know when I started this, is it’s so easy. It’s so easy to end it.”

Advertisements