By Mario Osava
The lauded regulation was only approved in Brazil in 2009. It obliges that at least 30 percent of the funds that municipalities receive from the National Fund for the Development of Education be used to purchase food produced by local family farming.
The formula is one of those discoveries that afterwards seem obvious, natural.
In addition to ensuring an important market for small producers, "the quality of food improved," the mother of two students, Jaqueline Lameira, who acts as a representative of the families in the Itaboraí School Food Council, which controls the offer and quality of the meals.
Itaboraí, a municipality in the southeastern state of Rio de Janeiro, of 230,000 inhabitants, about 11 percent rural, has already exceeded the legal minimum.
More than 40 percent of the breakfasts and lunches that are provided in municipal schools consume food from small-scale agriculture, said Inaiá Figueiredo, technical manager of Nutrition of the Ministry of Agriculture, Supply and Fisheries of the mayor's office.
It was only seven percent, when the current municipal administration took office in 2012, he reminded IPS.
The food offered was diversified, with the increase of horticultural products, including typical local vegetables, very nutritious but little consumed, and the minimum inclusion of three vegetables in each meal, he pointed out.
"For dessert there are fruits, never sweets, and sugar does not enter the juices, but locally produced honey," he said.
The cook Penha Maria Flausina opens the bags recently delivered by family farmers, with fruit and vegetables, at the João Baptista Cáffaro Municipal School, with 500 primary school students, in a poor neighborhood of the city of Itaboraí, in southeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS
“Children eat everything, they like to repeat the dishes, there is one who only comes to school to eat,” Penha Maria Flausina, a “merendeira” (cook) at the João Baptista Caffaro School, told IPS with laughter, in a neighborhood poor Itaboraí.
Meanwhile, he displays corn, okra or okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), pumpkins or freshly received fruits in the pantry.
All this is the result of a long process that began in 1986 with the first National Conference on Food and Nutrition, repeated in 2004, 2007, 2011 and now, throughout this first week of November, in Brasilia, with 2,000 participants.
In 1993, the National Council for Food and Nutrition Security (CONSEA) was created, with representatives of civil society and the government. In 2006 the Organic Law on Food and Nutritional Security was approved.
The law that links the National School Food Program (PNAE) to family farming faced strong resistance before its approval by the bicameral legislative Congress in 2009, economist Francisco Menezes told IPS.
"The huge market for school meals, today made up of 45 million students, was dominated by companies, some hired by the municipality for all of its schools," observed Menezes, who as president of CONSEA between 2004 and 2007, played a key role in the elaboration and voting of the norm.
With monopoly providers it is usual "more price and less quality," he stressed.
The discussion of the bill took three years and was hampered by parliamentarians interested in that market or financed by the supplier companies, which in the end "remained strong", maintaining 70 percent of sales, although as a maximum share.
In this vast country of 206 million inhabitants, the effectiveness of the law is irregular. "There are municipalities that comply with it, others do not, and there are some in southern Brazil that reached one hundred percent from family farming," according to Menezes. Fraud also happens, he admitted.
The “strong” municipal councils inhibit irregularities, but they are also subject to pressure, for this reason “everything depends on family farming organized in associations and cooperatives, so that if a producer fails, other associates guarantee the provision”, commented the expert.
In any case, the law is vital, because "it turns the program into State policy, making setbacks difficult," he concluded.
Peasant leader Idevan Correa examines one of his new orange trees. He decided to re-plant an orange grove, thanks to Brazilian law that requires at least 30 percent of the food consumed in schools to come from local family farming. The municipality of Itaboraí was famous for its oranges until a plague reduced its production. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS
Correa, the peasant who would have liked to have that law since the abolition of slavery, which occurred in Brazil in 1888, considers it “smart” even when setting the part of family farming at 30 percent, at least.
"It is a first experimental step, the small ones could not produce much more from one moment to the next, that should increase little by little," said this president of the Association of Rural Producers of the IV District of Itaboraí and heir to a farm from 100 hectares that his father received from the agrarian reform in the 1950s.
He also agrees with the annual limit of 20,000 reais (5,200 dollars) for the sale of each producer to the municipality, although this hurt him this year, in which he could have exceeded his quota, with the sale of corn, beans, potatoes and fruits .
"Better this way, more farmers can sell, if the quota increases a lot it will be up to few," he reasoned.
"At the beginning of the current administration, in 2012, only nine or 10 producers participated in the school feeding program, now there are 54," agronomist Ana Paula de Farias, technical advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture, Supply and Fisheries, told IPS. of the city hall of Itaboraí.
In the municipality there are about 300 rural properties, but most of them are dedicated to livestock. The problem with expanding providers is that many do not have the required documentation, he explained.
In addition, technical assistance was necessary for organic production or a strong reduction in the use of agrochemicals and an adaptation to the specificities of infant feeding, such as the standardization of guavas in small sizes, to offer a fruit to each child, without the need for divide them into pieces.
"The most important lesson of that learning was to sow without agricultural chemicals," Correa acknowledged. "One is learning and adapting to the program, before a lot was planted to earn more, without the conditions to compete with large companies, now more quality is sought, with more care because it is about feeding local children," he said.
Selling to schools greatly improved his life, even if it has a cap. This is because the program pays "supermarket prices" at retail, without transportation costs because the mayor's office offers its trucks, while in the large horticultural market you have to submit to intermediaries who pay less and charge costs, he compared.
This Brazilian experience of combining family farming and school meals is already exported to several African and Latin American countries, such as Mali, Mozambique, Senegal and Bolivia.
It is also one of the models of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, an initiative that emerged in 2009 with technical support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
In fact, this Brazilian legislation will be analyzed during the VI Forum of Parliamentary Fronts Against Hunger, which will be held in Lima between the 15th and 17th of this month, with the presence of legislators from the region and guests from Africa and Asia.
The Food Acquisition Program, based on another 2003 law and aimed at the network of assistance institutions, is also spread abroad, as an example of successful public policies of double benefit, expanding food security and at the same time strengthening family farming .
Food security is also important to develop "an intersectoral vision", involving various ministries, such as those of Agriculture, Health and Education, which tend to act in isolation, Menezes said.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez