The contrasts between agribusiness profits and the increase in hunger in Brazil

At an open-air market in São Paulo’s East Zone, 37-year-old Ariana Rufo Rodrigues goes from stall to stall selling mints, alongside her daughter. Her occupation is manicure, but due to the pandemic she started selling candies and sweets on the street to supplement her income. “The hardest part? For me it’s just that I’m a single mother, my daughter didn’t go to school and had no one to leave with. And exposing her to the virus is difficult”, he says. A Bolsa Família beneficiary, Ariana receives help from a food NGO and sticks to her faith to find answers to current problems. “I believe in the Bible and it’s all written in it, so the trend is getting worse. The government needs to favor the population, but they help on the one hand and hinder on the other. The aid helps people, but the gas is R$ 100, understand?”

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Ariana is not alone, a report by the Brazilian Research Network on Sovereignty and Food and Nutritional Security (PenSSAN Network) reveals that, during the new coronavirus pandemic, 116.7 million Brazilians lived with some degree of food insecurity – be it mild, moderate or severe.

Food security is the certainty that a person is able to eat three meals a day in sufficient quantity and quality to develop in a healthy way.

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The National Survey on Food Insecurity and Covid-19 in Brazil, by the PenSSAN Network, threw open the numbers of hunger and social inequality across the country. The document, published in April, reveals that 55.2% of the Brazilian population had some food restriction in 2020. There are 116,842,556 people in a situation of food insecurity.

Less than half of the Brazilian population, 44.8%, was able to have all three meals without sacrificing any item in their diet. In other words, only 94 million, of the 211,752,656 Brazilians, did not have any dietary restrictions.

In addition to the health crisis, the new coronavirus pandemic also brought economic problems. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), through PNAD Continua, Brazil currently has 14.8 million unemployed, reaching 14.6% of the population. The report presented by the PenSSAN Network also brought numbers that corroborate government statistics. In 2020, at least one member of each family lost their job, 19% of the population, and 49.7% had a reduction in family income.

Help

The president of the NGO Banco de Alimentos, economist Luciana Chinaglia Quintão, also sees an increase in the number of needy families. “I’m an economist by training, so I follow all this data and it’s impossible not to notice. The issue of income is closely linked to the issue of food, if income drops, food drops and thus the level of food insecurity increases”, he says.

To help low-income families, informal workers or people in situations of financial instability, in April 2020, the government authorized emergency aid in the amount of R$600. More than R$386 billion and more than 68 were invested millions of beneficiaries. In addition to emergency aid, another income transfer program aimed at reducing hunger and inequalities is Bolsa Família. Last year, 68,225,233 Brazilians benefited from the program, with R$ 32 billion being invested.

However, despite the government’s attempts, in 2020, the level of moderate and severe food insecurity in Brazil is close to 2004 levels. 2019, starting with the decrease in public food stocks.

According to sociologist Maitê Gauto, program manager at Oxfam Brasil, aid programs are not enough to reduce hunger and inequality in the country. “The point is that we need joint actions, income transfer policies are fundamental. In addition, we need a set of policies that will help foster job creation, economic restructuring and support for small and medium-sized enterprises – which was quite lacking in 2020/21”.

The contrast with agribusiness profit

While in one line of the food chain the food doesn’t make it to the table, at the other end it makes a profit. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, the Gross Production Value (VBP) is estimated at R$ 1.109 trillion for this year, an increase of 9.8% compared to last year.

The VBP is the data that shows the performance of crops and livestock during the year, it is a reflection of investments, growth and external actions. Although it does not show the real value, which is only obtained through the General Price Index (IGP), the VBP serves as a preview of what is to come.

Currently, Brazil is the second largest food exporter in the world, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO). It is also the fourth largest grain producer, after China, the US and India, according to Embrapa (Brazilian Research and Agriculture Company), linked to the Ministry of Agriculture.

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The high numbers and, in a way, exciting, are far from the reality of millions of Brazilians, who live with hunger. According to the PenSSAN Network survey, around 60% of the population living in rural areas faces some level of food insecurity.

Since 2019, the federal government has stopped stocking food and this reflex can be felt today, as Maitê Gauto says: “The supply policy was also dismantled, because we stopped stocking when prices were lower and we can no longer play back in the market now that the situation is worse, our hands are tied, right?”

old problem

Despite the pandemic, food insecurity was already increasing in Brazil. The most recent Family Budget Survey (POF), from 2018, reveals that 36.6% of the population suffered from some degree of food insecurity. In 2014, when Brazil left the hunger map, we had more than 3 million people suffering from hunger, recalls Gauto: “In 2015, with the economic crisis, the number of people suffering from hunger began to increase, so this year we already had 4.8 million people and in 2017 there were 5.2 million. The most recent data we had, up to this PenSSAN Network report, was the POF/IBGE report, which was for the years 2017/2018 and which was released in 2019, where we already had an alarming data that there were 10 millions of people are food insecure.”

The PenSSAN Network’s report on hunger once again shows who the people are affected by inequality in the country. The profile of those who suffer from food insecurity: women, 64%, blacks, 59.2%, and those who have completed elementary school, but with incomplete high school, 64.3%.

“Brazil is one of the countries that levy the most taxes in the world and is one of those that pay the least amount. We have great potential, it’s a wonderful country, I really wanted to see this country bomb. It’s a matter of intelligence and love”, says the president of the Food Bank.

Taxation of profits

Released last August 30, by the Central Bank, the Focus report predicts a smaller expansion in the Brazilian economy this year and official inflation, the Broad Consumer Price Index (IPCA), should be at 7.27% in 2020 the index was 4.52%.

“The increase in food prices is linked to the trade balance. The devaluation of our currency is making it a better business to export our products, which means that food does not remain in the domestic market and this is causing inflation to put pressure on the price of food in our country”, explains Maitê Gauto .

To solve the problem, the sociologist states that there is no simple solution and that the increase in profit in agricultural production does not mean that things will improve: “It is no use celebrating the possible or apparent profit of agricultural production, because this production does not serve the market internal. The success of production has an opposite effect, as this product is sold to the foreign market.”

“What we cannot do is for us to stay the way we are, in a macroeconomic design that does not consider the interests and impacts that these measures have on the Brazilian population. Mainly in a more vulnerable population, in the name of a neoliberal policy that favors the few over the many. We have a mechanism that we have not accessed so far, which is our tax system, we need to discuss the taxation on profits and dividends, a new table on income tax and the taxation of large fortunes – the richest will need to pay more taxes, no this burden can be carried more by those who earn less, the poorest pay much more in taxes, proportionally, than the richest”, he explains.