Hunger, an ancient virus with no vaccine

When poverty is the pandemic

Hunger haunts more than half of Brazil’s population, according to a study coordinated by the Food for Justice Research Group and carried out in late 2020 by researchers from the Free University of Berlin, the Federal University of Minas Gerais, and the University of Brasilia.

Carlos Amorín

Image: Pedro Molina | CartonClub

The study, entitled “Effects of the pandemic on food and the food security situation in Brazil,” gathered information on the conditions of more than 2,000 respondents across the country. Almost 60 percent of the people surveyed admitted to having experienced some form of food insecurity in the last quarter of 2020, which can be extrapolated to more than 126 million people.

According to the digital newspaper Nexo, “access by Brazilians to essential food staples in their basic diet fell sharply: 44 percent reduced their meat intake and 41 percent reduced their fruit intake.”

The pandemic deepens inequality

Among its findings, the study highlights that social and economic instability was aggravated by the pandemic, exacerbating food inequalities, especially access to healthy food on a regular basis and in adequate quantity and quality.

“Households with children up to 4 years of age present even more critical food insecurity indexes than the national average: 29.3 percent of such households eat an ideal quantity and quality of food, while the remaining 70.6 percent face some level of food insecurity. Of these, 20.5 percent are simply starving,” the newspaper Folha de São Paulo reports.

When presenting the study, researcher Renata Motta, of Grupo de Pesquisa Alimento para Justiça, noted that the situation is worsened “by political decisions made since 2016 that have contributed to the elimination or minimization of government programs aimed at reducing food insecurity in Brazil.”

“Food insecurity in the country has been on the rise for at least four years,” the researcher added. “What this means is that the small children in these households have spent their entire early childhood under conditions of medium to severe food insecurity,” she highlighted.

Pray to God…

Folha de São Paulo illustrates the situation with an account by Katarina Pereira, a 35-year-old woman who lives in the Ocupação Vitória favela, in the state of Belo Horizonte.

Katarina describes how at the start of the pandemic she lost her livelihood as a cleaner. When she could no longer pay the rent, she had to leave her house and move to Ocupação Vitória. Her bank account was then blocked and she stopped receiving the emergency social allowances from the government.

This year she was finally able to unblock her bank account and began receiving welfare aid under the direct cash transfer scheme known as “Bolsa Família.” She spends that money on food, but it is not enough, so to feed her children she also depends on handouts and on the fruits and vegetables she can pick in the community garden. “Every night we pray to God that the next day we will be able to find something,” Katarina says.

Eating meagerly and poorly

The study also measured the frequency of consumption of healthy foods (natural and minimally processed) and non-healthy foods (ultra-processed).

The study found that there was a significant reduction in the consumption of healthy foods during the pandemic. Forty-four percent of the people surveyed for the study reported a reduction in meat purchases, 40.8 percent in fruit purchases, 40.4 percent in cheese purchases, and 36.8 percent in vegetable and legume purchases.

The report also reveals that other inequalities predating the pandemic aggravate the impact of the health emergency on people’s diets.

Thus, for example, 25.5 percent of households headed by women go hungry, in contrast to only 13.3 percent of households where the man is the main provider. In the case of Black people, food insecurity is much higher, standing at 67.5 percent.

In addition to the pandemic, the other tragedy that Brazil is suffering, and which goes back decades, is the combination of neoliberalism and agribusiness. It is unacceptable that one of the largest food producers in the world, whose soybean feeds millions of animals in Europe and Asia, whose beef and other meats are consumed the world over, is failing to feed its own population.

Brazil’s food insecurity and hunger is not due to some mysterious curse or an unavoidable chaos or even inept politicians. It is caused by an extractivist economic system maintained at all costs by an elite that reaps all the benefits for itself.


Efeitos da pandemia na alimentação e na situação da segurança alimentar no Brasil, by Eryka Galindo, Marco Antonio Teixeira, Melissa de Araújo, Renata Motta, Milene Pessoa, Larissa Mendes and Lúcio Rennó, of the Research Group Food for Justice – Power, Politics and Food Inequalities in a Bioeconomy.

Folha de São Paulo
Nexo digital newspaper