So, if the land exists, what’s the problem?
There are problems of quality — you can’t just deposit people on the land. Infrastructure has to be created: roads, marketing support, technical assistance and so on. We have to also bring about social development, which is a more demanding process. Incidentally, the money which Lula allocated for these reforms has been blocked in order to finance repayments of foreign debt. We therefore have to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund and are urgently working on this. It really is a complex problem.
In addition to this complex situation, which requires time and patience, there are urgent issues which cannot be delayed. Hunger is unfortunately an everyday reality in Brazil; it seems a terrible situation.
The value of Brazil’s food exports could feed 35 million people. And we have 50 million people facing hunger or malnutrition. In South America 400,000 babies die of undernourishment and 150,000 of them are Brazilian. Lula is very aware of the problem and for this reason has given highest priority to the Zero Hunger program. He himself comes from a very poor family. Four of his siblings died of hunger, malnutrition or problems caused by contaminated water.
Zero Hunger is an ambitious project which tackles the problem of undernourishment with a novel and far-sighted approach.
Zero Hunger is based on the firm belief that a social problem can only be solved in political terms. The project has four main elements. The first is a policy of transfer payments — 73 reales per month (about 20 euros) to buy food. The immediate target is the 11,400,000 families living below the poverty threshold. We are currently helping 4 million families with a regular benefit and will reach 6 million by December. We aim to support all of them by 2006 and I have to say that so far we are managing well, I am optimistic. The problems lie with the other three elements of the Zero Hunger project. The second component is the policy focusing on social structures: Zero Hunger was not designed as a welfare program but as a social development program. We have already spoken about agrarian reform, but there is also the question of microcredits, public services, compulsory education to reduce illiteracy, health. It is difficult to create synergies between the transfer payment policy and policies addressing social and other infrastructures. The third component is a range of emergency action programs for groups who have no means of producing food, such as communities of ex-slaves and indigenous groups. The indigenous issue is extremely delicate. The fourth component of Zero Hunger is to foster educational initiatives at all levels: it is necessary to change people’s mentality and encourage cooperative activity, introduce microcredits and promote responsible family planning without having to impose birth control measures. I feel that Zero Hunger is a form of people’s organization based on policies for structural change: it is necessary to create the right conditions for real development to occur.
I find it fascinating, revolutionary even, that Zero Hunger has chosen family agriculture as the productive resource which recipients of the monthly 73 reales buy food from. It will be the first time ever that bids haven’t been opened up to multinationals for such a significant project.
We have to use our internal resources to combat hunger. President Lula will present the Zero Hunger project to a worldwide audience at the UN on 20 September. Campaigns are waged against war and terrorism, but hunger results in more victims and there is no outrage. I think it is because hunger, unlike wars and terrorism, makes class distinctions. According to the FAO, the world produces enough food for 11 billion people, twice as many as the current global population. The problem is therefore a problem of justice. When Lula first talked about the concept of Zero Hunger in the world, many European leaders expressed their enthusiasm and their first reaction was to offer food to countries in difficulty. Lula replied: “I am not asking for food but money!” Food donations are a clever way of justifying food subsidies in rich countries. They also destroy local culture; create dependency and favor the corruption of politicians managing humanitarian aid. We are talking about sustainability, regenerating local cultures, reconstructing identities and small traditional production systems.
Brazil has recently been at the center of heated debates , especially in foreign countries, about a controversial law governing biotechnologies, but perhaps it hasn’t been properly understood.
Transgenic organisms have always been banned by law in Brazil, but contraband material was arriving from Argentina. Even the Sem Terra, who are completely opposed to GMOs, unwittingly planted transgenic soybeans. It was this ‘illegal’ soy that created the problem since Brazil is one of the top three producers in the world. And here is another contradiction — this transgenic soy is almost exclusively exported for animal feed, with very little being consumed in Brazil. When we realized how much transgenic material was in the country, the government had to make hard choices. A ‘Law of Biosecurity’ was proposed, but it was a compromise between different positions. The law currently states that no transgenic crops may be grown without government authorization and they are subject to permanent tax provisions. GMOs may not be sold without government authorization and appropriate labeling. Some states, such as Paranà, have declared themselves GM free, but we have to accept what has already been planted. It is true that it is a compromise solution, but at least it ensures there is government control.
First printed in La Stampa 6/7/2004
Adapted by Ronnie Richards