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PROBLEMS OF FOOD INSECURITY IN BRAZIL

by Juliana Radler

Fifty million Brazilians, the equivalent to 30% of the population of Brazil, are considered to be poor or impoverished by Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV), one of the main centers of social-economical studies of the country. In countries with similar per capita income to the Brazilian (US$ 3,396) the poor do not get to 10% of the population, what demonstrates the high degree of income concentration in the biggest country of Latin America.

In this scene of inequality, the malnutrition and the hunger are part of the day by-day of million of Brazilians, who without food, raise sad pointers, such as the tax of infantile mortality, of 35,8 for a thousand born children. "Government and society coexisted for a long time with this situation that the inequality, of so usual, started to be, in practice, treated as a natural thing", says the researcher of the Applied Economy Research Institute (IPEA), Ricardo Enriques.

Two serious problems persist in Brazil which further aggravate the problem of hunger: the high degree of indebtedness of the country to the international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), that demands the cut on public expenses in the social area, and the corruption. This last factor is linked to the public sector as much as to the private one. Embezzlement of government funds and taxes evasion keep intervening with the brazilian social-economical development. To try changing this scene, the brazilian federal government is investing, even if a little, in actions to raise the quality of food. The president of the Brazilian Company of Farming Research (Embrapa), linked to the Ministry of Agriculture, Alberto Portugal, said that Brazil is working in improving the quality of food and to reduce the risk of loss of products to guarantee the food availability in any part of the country. The land division carried through by the government, according to Portugal, allows to assure products in time in any place. "In Brazil, we do not observe supplying problems anymore, as occurred some years ago in the case of meat and milk", he says. The brazilian government, according to Portugal, pledges in working in the quality of food, in producing purer food, with less contamination and rational use of pesticides. Moreover, he pointed out the partnership firmed between the ministries of Agriculture and Health, to enrich the flour with iron, aiming the reduction of malnutrition in first infancy.

Nowadays, Brazil already produces, although in small scale, a type of maize richer in protein. Besides the governmental initiatives, the battle against the hunger is also winning some new allies, specially in the last decade, when the private enterprise and the non-governmental organizations got to fight more for the equality between the citizens. By the end of year 2000, the Applied Economy Researches Institute (Ipea) concluded the first stage of the Social Action Research of the Companies, in the South of the country. According to research of Ipea, 46% of the companies of the south region, or 75 thousand, informed to have carried through some type of social action for the community, in 1999, from small eventual donations to structuralized designs. The industry is in front of the sectors that more stood out with 50%, followed close by commerce, with 45% and by the sector of services. The construction and agriculture come behind, with 30%. In the sphere of the non-profit organizations, stands out the performance of the Committee for the Citizenship, created by the sociologist Herbert de Souza, who died three years ago. Educative programs and combat to the poverty had been developed by the sociologist, who is today a synonym to the fight for the social equality in Brazil. It was his idea to create popular restaurants, that charge US$ 0,40 for meal, for the needy population. In one of these restaurants, in Rio de Janeiro, second biggest city of the country, 500 thousand meals had been served in not more than 30 days. The actions, however, are still not enough to reduce poverty in the country, which is one of the ten largest economies in the world. To further aggravate the situation, Brazil also faces some climatic problems that negatively affect the agricultural sector. In the northeast, the drought destroys farming, making it the country's poorest region, with similar social indicators to the poorest countries in Africa. Even in the brazilian south region, considered the most developed and with temperate climate, the agricole production have had some reduction. The production of seeds of the state of Paranfor instance, that had been the greatest of Brazil, will be reduced for the third consecutive year. According to preliminary numbers of the State Secretary of Agriculture (Seab), the volume is smaller in the main cultures - soy, wheat and maize. In the harvest of 1999/2000, the three added 352 thousand tons, answering for 93% of the 377,6 thousand tons produced in Brazil. There aren't still any statistics on all the products, but, considering these items, the reduction in 2000/2001, for the plantation in this year, is of 23%, meaning 271 thousand tons less. The distrust that in the future the global warming problem might directly affect the production of food already motivates great multinationals to research, also in Brazil, foods more resistant to climatic factors. Among them, is distinguished the german company Aventis, whose focus of research in biotechnology is the modified vegetables to resist a droughts, or to more easily adapt to lands hostile to the agricultural development. These studies however, get critics on the part of the public opinion. Some scientists against the genetic modifications point that they do not have certainty that the consume of these modified foods would not affect the human health. In the next 20 years, the brazilian perspectives in relation to the food guarantee for the population is directly related to the improvement of the social conditions of the country.

For some government economists, 4% are not enough for Brazil to present economic growth, that actually is, in average, of 3% to the year. It is necessary that the income distribution improves so that serious problems such as the hunger is overtaken.

Juliana Radler de Aquino is a Junior Reporter at Gazeta Mercantil in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.