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 set out a policy 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.
From Belo Horizonte to Windhoek
- Belo Horizonte is a pioneer in the right to food – guaranteed by law in 1993.
- A special Secretariat for Food and Nutrition Security (SMASAN) 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 family farmers into a localised and sustainable food system.
- Belo Horizonte applied a multi-stakeholder, participatory and multi-level approach in the formulation of the food security policy.
- the coordination of educational aspects of school lunches and secure nutrition security to vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, expectant and nursing mothers;
- the planning and coordination of initiatives in the realm of food supply and combating hunger, including the supply of information to aid public understanding with respect to the market, prices and nutritional value;
- the planning and coordination of initiatives in the area of credit, finance, and administration and of the tools and programmes that make up the municipal food (supply) system;
- the planning and coordination of initiatives which organise and incentivise the production of basic foodstuffs.
- the regulation of the market, either directly or indirectly, through the statuary power of the City, with the option of reducing prices of different food categories, whilst at the same time looking to reduce the distance between producers and consumers.
English translations, where available, can be found here.
Law No. 11.446, 2003: Regulating the Food Bank of Belo Horizonte [Portuguese]
Law No. 8.230, 1995: Decree regulating the “People’s Basket” programme [Portuguese]
Law No. 7.639, 1993: Decree establishing the “Workers Convoy” programme [Portuguese]
Law No. 9.538, 1998: Decree regulating “Straight from the Field” programme [Portuguese]
Law No. 9.540, 1998: Decree regulating the Community and School Garden Programme [Portuguese]
Law No. 9.539, 1998: Decree regulating the “Pro- Orchard” (tree planting) programme and other measures [Portuguese]
Law No. 6.882, 1995: Decree regulating Street Market Programme [Portuguese]
Law No. 7.164, 1996: Decree regulating the Basic Basket – Cesta Basica – Programme
Law No. 7.166, 1996: Decree regulating the use of urban and municipal land in Belo Horizonte [Portuguese]
Law No. 9523, 1998: Decree regulating the Municipal Central Supply System [Portuguese]
Law No. 5.181, 1998: Decree regulating the ABC- Markets (Abastacimientos) Programme
Law No. 9.527, 2008: Framework about the Municipal system of Food and Nutrition Security regulating the use of urban and municipal land in Belo Horizonte [Portuguese]
Law No. 15.982, 2005: Establishment of Regional Commissions for Food and Nutritional Security.
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]
Decree 6.272, 2007: Provides for the competency, composition and functioning of the National Council on Food and Nutrition Security (CONSEA). [Portuguese]
Decree 6.273, 2007: Creates the Interministerial Chamber for Food and Nutrition Security (CAISAN) under SISAN framework. [Portuguese]
Constitutional Amendment 64, 4 February 2010: Modifies article 6 of the Brazilian Federal Constitution to include food as a human right. [English]
Decree 7.272, 2010: Regulates the Organic Law of Food and Nutrition Security (2006); establishes the National Policy on Food and Nutrition Security (PNSAN) and installs the parameters for elaborating the National Plan on Food and Nutrition Security. [Portuguese]
Decree Institutionalizing the National Plan on Food and Nutrition Security, August 2011.
The Programmes of Brazil’s national Zero Hunger Strategy:
I – Food access: Bolsa Familia (BF), National School Meals Programme (PNAE), Food for Specific Groups, Rainwater Cisterns, Popular (Subsidized) Restaurants and Community Kitchens, Food Banks, Urban Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Surveillance System, Distribution of Vitamin A , Distribution of Iron, Food and Nutrition for Indigenous People, Food and Nutrition Education for Consumption, Promotion of Healthy Habits/Healthy Diets, Workers Food Programme (PAT), Basic Food Basket Tax Reduction;
II – Strengthening family agriculture: National Programme for Family Agriculture (PRONAF), Harvest Insurance, Family Farming Agriculture Insurance, Food Procurement Programme (PAA);
III – Income generation: Social and Professional Training, Solidarity Economy and Productive Inclusion, Food Security and Local Development Consortium, Food and Nutrition Security Organisation, Co-operatives of Recyclable Material Collectors, Guided Productive Micro-credit;
IV – Partnership promotion and civil society mobilisation: Social Assistance Reference Centre, Social Mobilisation and Citizenship Education, Social and Public Agents Capacity Building, Volunteer Work and Donations, Partnership with Private Sector and NGOs, Social Development Councils 
Implementation of Zero Hunger Strategy:
Through SISAN (National System of Food and Nutrition Security), the Brazilian government designs and implements policies, plans, programmes and actions to ensure the human right to adequate food. The approach to food and nutrition security in Brazil is inter-sectoral, participatory with the involvement of different stakeholders, including civil society in the development of the Nutrition Security Plan.
Collaboration between sectors and ministries, albeit challenging, is emphasised and coordinated by CONSEA, the National Council for Food and Nutrition Security, acting as advisory body to the president, working cross sectors and governments in an participatory manner, designing, implementing, evaluating and monitoring the food and nutrition security policy, and CAISAN, the Interministerial Chamber for Food and Nutrition Security. Food and nutrition security governance in Brazil is institutionalised and there is continuous political and financial commitment to the cause.
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.
Our “Best Policies” are those that meet the Future Just Lawmaking Principles and 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.
- Programmes make use of local resources – direct trading reduces transportation costs.
- Small rural producers are supported.
- Projects with other regions around the city aim to create a green belt organic agriculture as promoted by the organic street market programme.
- 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. 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).
- 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 Secretariat for Food and Nutrition Security (SMASAN) collaborates with the Health Secretariat on nutrition, hygiene and child care programmes.
- In partnership with the Secretariats of Health, Education and Social Policies, SMASAN offers workshops on healthy diets, safe manipulation and storage of foods and cooking.
- The Health Secretariat offers educational events, also at locations operated by SMASAN, 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, the children and youth of Belo Horizonte gain experience in self-sufficient resource provision and learn about locally based and healthy nutrition from an early age.
- 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 COMASA, the Council for Food Security that guides SMASAN’s work.
- Community events are held in order to promote the understanding of citizen ownership of the programme. Many decisions seek to encourage citizenship building.
- There is a commitment to develop and implement projects through partnerships and with the participation of civil society groups. For example, in the promotion of urban agriculture, a civic forum, the Urban Agricultural Space, brings together 33 civil society organisations and government agencies.
- The NDI, a programme for the documentation and information under SMASAN, makes accessible all information on the food and nutrition security system.
- In collaboration with the University of Belo Horizonte, SMASAN publishes the prices and best purchasing options for the Basic Basket – a composition of essential food stuffs and cleaning and hygiene products – on their website, bus posters, a hotline and various publications biweekly. This serves an informative purpose but also aims at promoting competition among the private sector food suppliers.
- 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.
- SMASAN has a separate administrative structure, with its own budget. 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.
- SMASAN 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 subsidising agricultural credit, crop insurance and technical assistance. 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.
- 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. SMASAN 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.
- SMASAN 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.
- SMASAN also collaborates with different governments – state and federal through financial partnerships.
- Some of the programmes coordinated by SMASAN are co-funded by the federal government, such as the Subsidized Restaurant and School Meals programmes, as part of the national Zero Hunger Strategy of the Brazilian government.
- 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 SMASAN, the body responsible for the development of its programmes.
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.
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 Secretariat for Food and Nutrition Security (SMASAN). Separate departments within SMASAN are responsible for the prevention and reduction of malnutrition, food distribution and availability, and food production and facilitation.
The Food and Nutrition Security Secretariat (SMASAN) 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 SMASAN 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 SMASAN are:
- Alimentary and nutritional assistance
- Subsidised food marketing.
- Promotion of urban agriculture.
- Supply and food market regulation.
- Mobilisation and education for food consumption.
- Employment and income generation with professional qualification.
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 less than 10 million USD per year and just 2% of the city’s annual budget.
There have been significant decreases in child mortality (60% fewer children are dying compared to ten years ago), a reduction in childhood and adult malnutrition (75% fewer children under 5 are hospitalised for malnutrition) and increase in local and organic food production and consumption (40% of people report frequent intake of fruit and vegetables; the national average is just 32%), an increase and stabilisation of income for farmers, and greater access and availability of food. Furthermore, 2 million farmers gained access to credit, 700.000 for the first time in their lives. In total, 40% of the population benefit directly from the programme.
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.
The human right to food has been established by many countries, particularly in Latin America. Belo Horizonte’s approach to food security (Brazil) 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.
Urban governance for food security: The alternative food system in Belo Horizonte, Brazil , Cecilia Rocha and Iara Lessa , Ryerson University
From Food Security to Farm to Formicidae: Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s Secretaria Municipal de Abastecimento and Biodiversity in the Fragmented Atlantic Rainforest, M. Jahi Chapell, 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 byYves Cabannes and Cecilia Marocchino, 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.