Belo Horizonte’s Food Security Policy
The city of Belo Horizonte in Brazil is a world pioneer in governance for food security. Its Municipal Law No. 6.352, 15/07/1993 established a historical milestone through the creation of the Municipal Secretariat of Supply, an organizational framework that is committed to the concept of food sovereignty: the right of peoples to define their own food and agricultural policies, to protect and regulate their production and trade in such a manner as to secure sustainable development, to determine the degree of their autonomy and to eliminate dumping on their markets.
Belo Horizonte’s success story began in 1993 when the Brazilian ‘Movement for Ethics in Politics’ emerged and mobilised up to 30 million people. ‘Citizenship Action against Hunger, Poverty and for Life’ was based on principles of solidarity and human rights and involved social movements as well as political parties. People were viewed as citizens rather than consumers and food insecurity as a market failure requiring government intervention.
The then newly elected mayor of Belo Horizonte, Patrus Ananias, acknowledged his 2.5 million citizens’ right to food and the duty of the government to guarantee this right. He created a Secretariat for Food Policy and Supply that included a 20 member council consisting of representatives from other government sectors (municipal, state, and federal), labour unions, food producers and distributors, consumer groups, research institutions, churches and civil society to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system. The explicit mandate was to increase access to healthy food for all as a measure of social justice.
With its exemplary Food Security system of 20 interconnected programmes, the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte has proven that the human right to sufficient and healthy food can be successfully transformed into a reality, all it requires is strong political will and 2% of the city’s annual budget. The programmes have eliminated hunger and malnutrition from the city, whilst at the same time boosted the local economy and livelihoods of small-scale agricultural holdings in the region.
After 27 years of experience, Belo Horizonte’s municipal policy on food and nutrition security currently has three fundamental pillars, namely:
(i) the direct supply of food to the population through popular restaurants (RPs), school meals, food assistance to social assistance organizations, and the food bank;
(ii) market regulation and promotion of fairs to provide low-cost food to the population through the ABasteCer vegetable markets, and the free, straight from the farm and organic fairs; and
(iii) the strengthening of family and urban agriculture based on agroecology through institutional and community agroecological systems, the establishment of productive backyards and community gardens in vulnerable communities for the development of sustainable territories) and the institutional procurement of family farming.
Transversal to the pillars there are initiatives for food and nutrition education, as well as training in agroecology and gastronomy.
From Belo Horizonte to Windhoek
Since 2014, the World Future Council has facilitated an exchange of knowledge between Belo Horizonte and African cities, especially Windhoek. In 2015, we gathered experts from the Food Security Secretariat of Belo Horizonte, international experts, local and national government representatives from Namibia, civil society and private sector to share experiences and ideas for the development of local strategies for interventions in food and nutrition security, focusing on the themes of urban and peri-urban agriculture as well as food loss and waste reduction. Since then first concrete measures have been implemented. Windhoek officially declared that it will improve the food security of its citizens. The Namibian capital signed an international cooperation agreement with Belo Horizonte and established already a food bank. Further, in a workshop experts exchanged about innovative urban agricultural practices, the recycling of wastewater and the findings of our report “Growing Food in Windhoek. Urban Agriculture Policy and Practice ”. Learn more about this work.
- Belo Horizonte is a pioneer in the right to food – guaranteed by law in 1993.
- A special Subsecretariat for Food and Nutritional Security (SUSAN) coordinates the different programmes and partnerships with other relevant departments such as health, education, parks and spaces, waste, etc. under a holistic approach.
- A strong emphasis is placed on healthy nutrition and the inclusion of urban and family farmers into a localised and sustainable food system.
- Belo Horizonte applies a multi-stakeholder, participatory and multi-level approach in the formulation of the food security policy.
- The successful example of Belo Horizonte’s Food Security Policy was replicated for all of Brazil and induced similar policies at state and national level
Last update: 2020
The State of Minas Gerais, where Belo Horizonte is located, enacted their on policy for food security and nutrition in 2018 (Law No 22,806/2018).
Law No.11.346, 2006: regulates the National Food and Nutrition Security System that aims at guaranteeing the human right to adequate food and nutrition, defined as “the realization of everyone’s right to regular and permanent access to enough food of good quality without compromising access to other basic necessities, and based on food practices that promote health, respect cultural diversity, and are environmentally, culturally, economically, and socially sustainable” and takes other measures. [Portuguese]
Constitutional Amendment 64, 4 February 2010: Modifies article 6 of the Brazilian Federal Constitution to include food as a human right. [English]
The Programmes of Brazil’s national Zero Hunger Strategy
The policy guarantees all citizens their human right to sufficient, healthy, adequate food.
Belo Horizonte guaranteed a human right to food in 1993, even before the High Commissioner for Human Rights legally defined it as:
“the right to adequate food means that every man, woman and child alone and in community with others must have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food using a resource base appropriate for its procurement in ways consistent with human dignity. The right to adequate food is a distinct part of the right to an adequate standard of living”
During the World Food Summit in 1996 the Rome Declaration was signed by heads of State and Government, reaffirming the right of all human beings to adequate, safe and nutritious food.
The human rights approach to food and nutrition security moves away from the benevolent model of aid and holds governments accountable for ensuring the access to sufficient and nutritious food of their citizens.
recognise the interconnected challenges we face today. The goal of principled policy work is to ensure that important universal standards of sustainability and equity, human rights and freedoms, and respect for the environment are taken into account. It also helps to increase policy coherence between different sectors.
Sustainable use of natural resources
- Programmes make use of local resources – direct trading reduces transportation costs.
- Small rural producers are supported.
- In cooperation with other cities of the Metropolitan region, Belo Horizonte is developing a participatory guarantee system (SPG) to set forth a collaborative platform for healthy, organic and agroecological food production, certified in a participatory manner.
Equity and poverty eradication
- Food security is defined as a human right, meaning that all citizens have the right to an adequate quantity and quality of food throughout their lives.
- It is the duty of the government to guarantee this right.
- People are citizens, not only consumers. Those who cannot afford food in adequate quantity and quality are supported in a dignified way – not in a charity character.
- Job and income generation programmes aim at breaking the cycle of poverty through professional qualification in gastronomy and agroecology. The livelihoods of small farmers in the surrounding areas is improved through the ‘Straight from the Field’ programme which grants market spaces for farmers to sell their produce directly to consumers, eliminating middlemen and thus allowing for higher profits for producers and lower prices for consumers.
- As result of the policy there have been significant decreases in infant mortality rate (between 1993 and 2006: from 34.4 deaths per 1,000 live births to 3 deaths per 1,000 live births).
- The Emergency Food and Nutrition Assistance Program (PAAN), approved by law 11.193 / 2019, serves 1,000 families monthly ensuring access to staple foods.
- Since 2011, homeless people have free food offered by the Popular Restaurants
- Nutrition education is a vital part of the policy.
- Nutritionists carefully plan menus according to the dietary requirements of the beneficiary group – elderly people receive a different meal to young children.
- The Subsecretariat for Food and Nutrition Security (SUSAN) collaborates with the Health Secretariat on nutrition, hygiene and childcare programmes.
- In partnership with the Secretariats of Health, Education and Social Policies, SUSAN offers workshops on healthy diets, safe manipulation and storage of foods and cooking.
- The Health Secretariat offers educational events, also at locations operated by SUSAN, such as the Popular Restaurants. People can receive specific health services there on occasions.
- In the promotion of urban and peri-urban agriculture, organic agriculture is incentivised.
- By promoting urban gardening in schools, institutions, and for community groups, Belo Horizonte citizens gain experience in self-sufficient resources and practice healthy and local nutrition.
Public participation, access to information and justice
- Civil society representatives, farmers, workers, labour unions, private sector, consumer groups, churches, representatives from other governments (municipal, state and federal) and citizens were involved, from the beginning, in the design of the food security system through COMUSAN, the Municipal Council for Food Security that guides SUSAN’s work.
- The School Feeding Council establishes control and popular participation in the context of guaranteeing food in the municipal education network.
- There is a commitment to develop and implement projects through partnerships and with the participation of civil society groups. The NDI, a programme for the documentation and information under SUSAN, makes accessible all information on the food and nutrition security system.
- Nutrition Education for the general public through workshops on nutrient saving cooking methods, correct hygiene practices in food handling and urban agriculture make information on food and nutrition security mainstream. These actions are supplemented by booklets with low-cost, highly nutritional recipes and other communication material. Nutrition theatres in school sensitise and inform children from early age on about the importance of healthy diets.
Good governance and human security
- SUSAN has a separate administrative structure, with its own budget established by the Municipal Food and Nutrition Security Fund – FUMUSAN. It was necessary to centralise the planning, coordination, and execution of all municipal food security policies. This centralisation has allowed for a fundamental review of how nutrition and food-related programmes are perceived: from emergency and assistance initiatives to the regulation of policies which deserve the same status as other more traditional public policies in areas such as health and education.
- SUSAN developed programmes that not only promote food and nutrition security within the city but that also show promise as models for maintaining the livelihoods of local small farmers. Public procurement from family farms is encouraged by law. By directly linking local producers and consumers and diminishing the role of wholesalers in the supply chain, food prices remain affordable.
- The policy further supports local production by ensuring the use of public land and technical assistance for agro-ecological urban production. More specifically, the Food Acquisition Programme supports the commercialisation of products from small farms by creating institutional markets for them, thus ensuring sufficient sales potential. This is also guaranteed by a requirement – though as yet unmet – that at least 30% of funding for the national school meals programme must be spent on purchasing food from family farms.
- There are specialists from different fields working in the food security system, including nutritionists and agronomists.
- An institutional channel integrates private parties and promotes innovative partnerships to encourage network-formation between government departments, the private sector, civil society and community associations.
Integration and interrelationship
- This is a municipal government programme cooperating across health/ nutrition and city/ countryside boundaries, while supporting local and organic food, small farmers, addressing childhood and adult malnutrition and hunger, access to food and nutritional education, all under a modest city budget.
- The policy demonstrates a comprehensive integrated approach involving aspects of consumption, distribution, production and education.
- Integration with the rural productive sector from the interior of the state, besides offering a better remuneration of the rural producers, makes it feasible to invest in the production system. SUSAN has the mandate to purchase 30% of the fresh produce for the school meals programme from small farmers for example. The key idea is to be economically feasible and ecologically sustainable.
- Along these lines, SUSAN implemented the Urban and Family Agriculture Supply Center, a space managed by a network of family farming cooperatives throughout the state of Minas Gerais, which serves as a logistics warehouse for the disposal of goods produced for Belo Horizonte’s private and institutional markets.
- SUSAN has always worked in a cross-sectoral and multi-stakeholder manner collaborating closely with the health secretariat, the education secretariat, the secretariat for social assistance and the secretariat for parks and gardens and the waste department.
- SUSAN also collaborates with different governments – state and federal through financial partnerships.
- Some of the programmes coordinated by SUSAN are co-funded by the federal government as part of the national Zero Hunger Strategy of the Brazilian government.
- In 2018, the municipality established a “Protocol of Intent” for institutional cooperation and the strengthening of agroecology in the region, with a view to implementing the Participatory Guarantee System, which was signed by 4 state agencies, a federal agency and 1 international institution and, so far, it has been joined by 13 municipalities. The protocol, besides establishing a common governance, also foresees the creation of local centers in order to generate connection and participation at the end. As a result, in October 2019 the Associação Horizontes Criativos was created, a self-managed farmer organization that will promote participatory certification of agro-ecological food production in the region.
Common but differentiated responsibilities
- 18 different programmes, targeted at different population groups and dimensions of food insecurity, ensure the right to food and promote equity and the eradication of poverty.
- People are seen as citizens holding rights rather than consumers only.
- The system targets marginalised groups and those on the periphery of the society who need help covering their basic nutritional needs.
- Locally available resources and knowledge is used in all of the programmes.
- The programmes are incorporated into the routine life of areas and aim to build upon a sense of community and citizenship incentives, opportunity and accessibility are offered to the vulnerable.
In 1993, at a time of social mobilisation against hunger and misery, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party) was elected in Belo Horizonte. Belo Horizonte’s approximately two million citizens were experiencing food insecurity due to high prices, and an inability to access food caused by the uneven distribution of food outlets throughout the 350 square-kilometre city, worsened by various problems in urban infrastructure.
Under the leadership of Patrus Ananias, the newly elected Mayor of BH in 1993, and now Honorary Councillor of the World Future Council, the city’s food security law, Municipal Law No. 6.352, 15/07/1993, set out a policy framework for food security and created the Municipal Secretariat of Food Supply (SMAB), now SUSAN, the body responsible for the development of its programmes.
The following year, Brazil’s first restaurant with universal access was inaugurated. At the same time, SMAB began emergency provisioning of enriched supplementation for expectant mothers, nursing mothers and young children at risk of malnourishment, as well as the provision of meals in schools and expanded the initiatives of the ABasteCer markets, Worker’s Convoy, Popular Basket, fairs and markets, designed to stimulate the commercialization of staple food affordable to the poor. From the production point of view, the 1990s also began to allocate community production units in unoccupied public spaces. Within the society scope, the national and state forums were created, and later, the Municipal Council of School Feeding (2000) and Nutritional Food Security (2003). In 2003, the articulation began to finally establish the national policy, partially influenced by the Belo Horizonte experience. The Family Farming Food Acquisition Program is created and subsequently the National Food Security System. Within the municipality, the Food Bank was created in 2003 and in 2008 the FNS Municipal System, along with the expansion of several structures. In 2001 the municipal policy of urban agriculture was instituted and Popular Restaurants began to serve street people free of charge. In 2017 a new cycle of innovation began, focusing on the resumption of services created in the 1990s, but also on improving the nutritional quality of menus, agroecology and gastronomy.
The overall goal of the law is to improve both food availability (sustainable production, prices) and food accessibility (affordable prices, local control, information and public services). The policy clearly meets principles on poverty eradication, equity and attention towards the health of the population and the production of food.
Within this policy framework, Belo Horizonte has succeeded in mainstreaming food security issues into public policy and provides a model that has “unpacked” poverty, integrated rural and city dynamics, and today works to strengthen Belo Horizonte’s and its metropolitan region inclusive and sustainable food system.
The municipal government recognises citizens’ rights to ‘adequate quantity and quality of food’ and a ‘duty of governments to guarantee this right’. It therefore manages the provision and distribution of food to groups and parts of the city where this right is threatened.
Every member of the population who may be food insecure, but also those who are not food insecure, is deemed to have the right of access to and availability of sufficient nutritious food. The vulnerable are guaranteed highly nutritious food (for example in schools and hospitals), while the marginalised are given access to low cost produce directly in their areas of residence. The city invests in community food sovereignty programmes that address health, social equality, job creation, diversified agriculture, and the encouragement of local food production.
Although the recognition of the right to food security is an important element, the policy goes much further and promises the delivery of the service by following a systemic approach that includes food producers, distributors, and consumers. According to interviewed experts, the means and methods of delivery are far superior to any other system.
The law applies to every stage of the food chain, including research and development of (increasingly organic and also urban) farming technology, credits for family farmers and support of farmers markets, waste disposal, decentralised distribution, feeding and health education programmes, operation of popular restaurants and, recently, financial assistance. The programme also includes a formal evaluation process.
A wide range of projects have been developed to help large groups of people. The idea of “food with dignity” permeates the whole programme. Community participation and engagement, workshops, and incentives for involvement are all supported and managed by an efficient, flexible and decentralized administration. The federal government provides some of the funding, but as a consequence of Brazil’s system of decentralisation, most of the power is in the hands of the municipal government, particularly the Sub-Secretariat for food and nutritional security (SUSAN). Separate departments within SUSAN are responsible for the prevention and reduction of malnutrition, food distribution and availability, and food production and facilitation.
SUSAN coordinates all actions for the promotion of food and nutrition security in an inter-sectoral, multi-level, multi-stakeholder approach. The systematic approach guiding the work of SUSAN is as follows:
- The integration of logistics and supply chains into the entire food system.
- The linking of local producers directly to consumers to reduce prices for the poor and increase profits for the family farmers, increasing overall food sovereignty.
- Using government procurement to stimulate local diversified agricultural production and job creation.
- Educating the population about food security and good nutrition.
- Regulating markets of selected produce to guarantee the right to healthy, high- quality food to all citizens.
The concrete working areas of SUSAN are:
- Promotion of urban agriculture;
- Supply and Market Regulation;
- Subsidized Food Marketing;
- Food Assistance Program;
- Consumer Education;
- Professional Training and Qualification;
- Management of Public Policies in Food and Nutrition Security
In all the above provisions, the principles of governance and human security, participation and access to information, and the protection of natural resources find adequate reflection.
A central result of the policy framework is the near elimination of hunger in Belo Horizonte, at the cost of about 25 million USD per year and just 2% of the city’s annual budget.
In 2019, Belo Horizonte’s Food Security Policy reached significant numbers:
- Over 87 million tons of meals were served, either free of charge or subsidized
- 210 tons of food was donated by the food bank
- 31.000 tons of healthy food was provided at accessible prices
- 142 tons of food was purchased from family farming initiatives
- 109 productive yards were created
- 37 community food systems were implemented
- 20.000 people participated in training programs
Furthermore, the policy has led to significant decreases in infant and child mortality (70% and 60% less deaths in 2015 compared to mid-90s) as well as a decrease in hospitalization due to diabetes (33% less in 2015 compared to mid-90s). There has been a massive reduction in childhood and adult malnutrition and an huge increase in local and organic food production and consumption. This also led to an increase and stabilisation of income for farmers, and greater access and availability of food. Lastly, 2 million farmers gained access to credit, 700.000 for the first time in their lives.
Overall, it can be observed that 40% of the population benefit directly from the policy.
In addition, the policy has had multiple positive side effects such as increased resilience to the effects of climate change as well as rising food prices on the international markets, (now 25 % fewer people live in poverty), and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from food transportation, as there is now a closer interaction between small rural producers and urban consumers.
Inequalities in power and the barriers they represent to realizing basic human rights, as well as the poverty they embody are the most significant causes of hunger. That’s why one key SUSAN priority is educating children and adults by way of school programs, community shows, food price lists for consumers, workshops, cooking classes, and more. These activities promote citizen ownership and participation (agency) and teach fundamental principles of nutrition.
The human right to food has been established by many countries, particularly in Latin America. Belo Horizonte’s approach to food security was one of the first integrated food security policies in the world. It has not only influenced the national Zero Hunger Strategy of Brazil but has also worked as a model for other cities around the globe.
An advantage of the multi-dimensional and comprehensive system is that it consists of various different programmes. Therefore, not the system as whole but specific programmes fitting the local needs and circumstances can be transferred to other localities.
The system is labour intensive requiring extensive organisation and coordination. On a larger scale stronger opposition from established powers such as agro- industry, food manufacturers could be anticipated and potentially pose a barrier to implementation (if viewed as a threat to the political economic norm).
However, a feasibility study conducted by the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ), on behalf of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), attributed transferability and a model character suitable for other urban areas. Urban areas in Namibia, particularly Windhoek, are now in the process of implementing programmes modelled on the Belo Horizonte model through a knowledge transfer facilitated by the World Future Council. Learn more about our work.
Celebrating the Belo Horizonte Food Security Programme. Future Policy Award 2009: Solutions for the Food Crisis, World Future Council, 2009.
From Food Security to Farm to Formicidae: Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s Secretaria Municipal de Abastecimento and Biodiversity in the Fragmented Atlantic Rainforest, M. Jahi Chappell, Universtiy of Michigan, 2009.
The Food Security System of Belo Horizonte – A model for Cape Town? Results from the fact finding mission to specify the needs for an urban food and nutrition security system in Cape Town based on the system of Belo Horizonte, 19th of April to 8th of June, 2011, Maria Gerster‐Bentaya, Cecilia Rocha, Andreas Barth.
What makes urban food policy happen? Insights from five case studies, Lead authors: Corinna Hawkes and Jess Halliday, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), 2017.
Integrating Food into Urban Planning, Edited by Yves Cabannes and Cecilia Marocchino, 2018.
Beginning to End Hunger Food and the Environment in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Beyond, by M. Jahi Chappell, 2018.
The City that Beat Hunger
Since 1993, the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte has proven with its exemplary Food Security system of 20 interconnected programmes, that the Human Right to sufficient and healthy food can be successfully transformed into a reality, and that all it requires is strong political will and 2% of the city's annual budget. It has eliminated hunger and malnutrition from the city, whilst at the same time boosted the local economy and livelihoods of small-scale agricultural holdings in the region.