This City Makes Sure No One Goes Hungry

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Above photo: Residents wait in line to pick up fruit at Praça da Estação.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By long ago prioritizing residents’ right to healthy food, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, has been able to keep food flowing during the pandemic.

Nestled on a wide plateau surrounded by the Espinhaço Mountains in southeastern Brazil is the city of Belo Horizonte, roughly 275 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. The city of 2.5 million is an industrial and technological hub, which had historically led to stark socioeconomic divisions, including high rates of poverty. But while other similarly situated cities around the globe struggle to meet the basic needs of their residents, Belo Horizonte pioneered a food security system that has effectively eliminated hunger in the city. The entire program requires less than 2% of the city’s annual budget.

Building off Brazil’s grassroots Movement for Ethics in Politics, in 1993 Belo Horizonte enacted a municipal law that established a citizen’s right to food, creating a commission of government officials, farmers, labor leaders, and others, charged with a mandate to “provide access to food as a measure of social justice.”

Today, Belo Horizonte’s food security system comprises 20 interconnected programs that approach food security in sustainable ways. They connect food-producers directly to consumers (eliminating retailer markup); offer healthy, fresh food at fixed, low costs at several restaurantes popular, or “popular (public) restaurants”; provide food directly to schools, day care centers, clinics and nursing homes, shelters, and charitable organizations; establish farmers’ markets and stands to allow farmers to sell their goods directly to residents; regulate food prices for 25 specific items, which must be sold at 20-50% below market price; create food banks to distribute unused produce from those markets; and establish community and school gardens, in addition to providing nutrition education.

When the novel coronavirus pandemic hit Brazil in February, Belo Horizonte was well-positioned to address at least one attendant issue of the pandemic: The city already had a substantial infrastructure for distributing fresh, healthy food at low or no-cost to the vast majority of its residents. As Brazil’s COVID-19 cases skyrocketed and the need became greater, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals offered financial and distribution support to expand the existing food security network, including increasing the number of open-air markets and restaurants available to distribute food to those in need.

A waiter serves soda to a man at the open-air restaurant installed at Praça da Estação. About 3,000 meals are being distributed every Friday, in addition to food, fruit, and water.

Volunteers carry supplies to poor residents of the Aglomerado da Serra Favela on June 4, 2020, in Belo Horizonte.