• BreakThrough Staff

Eating with hope: Solidarity initiatives are the last resort for Brazil’s hungry

Over the past few years, an about-turn in policies saw a massive increase in hunger in Brazil. As the pandemic wreaked havoc, solidarity initiatives and donations, which feed close to 30% of the population, were all that stood between people and starvation.

By Daniel Giovanaz and Pedro Stropasolas

The abandonment of policies to combat poverty has put Brazil on the path back to the United Nations Hunger Map. While the UN has officially not included the country in the map, Brazil is already performing poorly in several food security indices.

7.8 million jobs have already been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic served to exacerbate an already precarious situation.

According to data from Freie Universität Berlin, 125.6 million Brazilians suffer from food insecurity. The number is equivalent to 59.3% of the country's population. "We wake up with no hope of having bread and rice, and go to sleep without knowing if we will have something to eat the next day," says Jaqueline Félix, from São Paulo, who used to be a domestic worker and a sales clerk, but gave up looking for a job.

22-years-old Jaqueline receives R$375 (Approx USD 70) as emergency aid from the government and depends on donations to survive. "A package of diapers or a bale of milk costs R$50. It often doesn't fit in the budget," she says.

Jaqueline and her two children survive on two meals a day: breakfast and a late lunch, which serves as dinner as well.


Things were different in Brazil once. When he took office in 2003, One of the primary goals of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party of Brazil was to guarantee that everyone in the country had three meals a day. However, just a few months before, a United Nations report had said the hunger was worsening even as the Brazilian state had no strategy to address it.

Lula's response was the Zero Hunger program, which targeted four central elements related to food security. The first two were demands that had been consistently raised by people’s movements: availability and access to food.

The third aspect was stability. "This refers to the maintenance of all of this. It was not a discussion on just giving a basic basket," notes economist Walter Belik, one of the program's creators and a retired professor from the Institute of Economics at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). The other key issue at the center of these debates was the quality of food.

Thanks to the program and policies to increase the minimum wage and income distribution, Brazil left the Hunger Map in 2014. “Statistically speaking, only a small number of families experienced hunger in the past decade,” explains Belik.


For Emerson Pavão, 50, who used to work as a security guard, the achievements of that time are in the past. As he was unemployed, he had to leave the house where he lived and has been spending nights in hostels in São Paulo for nearly a year.