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What can we learn from Belo Horizonte’s urban food system?
Date: 2013-05-10 11:12:00 User:
The Belo Horizonte (Brazil) food security system has shown that through the application of the “right to food” with political will and appropriate measures, problems of food insecurity and related causes can be addressed successfully. Should Belo Horizonte / Brazil be the only case? Other cities in the global South, but also increasingly in the North have similar problems, so what can they learn from Belo Horizonte? A report developed by Maria Gerster‐Bentaya, Cecilia Rocha, Andreas Barth tries to answer this question for Cape Town, South Africa, but there findings may also be relevant for other cities.

With a population of 2.5 million people (and over 5 million in its greater metropolitan area spread over 33 municipalities), Belo Horizonte is a world pioneer in tackling food consumption, distribution and production as components of an integrated urban policy for food security leading to the development of an alternative food system. In 2008 Belo Horizonte marked 15 years of the creation of its Secretariat for Food Policy and Supply (Secretaria Municipal Adjunta de Abastecimento ‐‐ SMAAB) which has centralized the policy and programmes related to food in the city. What makes this a celebration is that SMAAB’s programmes have been quite successful in pursuing that agency’s main goal: increasing the access to healthy food by all. Belo Horizonte’s success is due, in large part, to conscious public policy‐making. It is rooted in the commitment and values of people in government who have designed and implemented innovative SMAAB’s programmes
An overview of the main programmes being implemented in the city suggests the breadth of
SMAAB’s initiatives and why together they form an alternative food system. Programmes at SMAAB
are described under six main “lines of work”: 1) Subsidized Food Sales; 2) Food and Nutrition Assistance; 3) Supply and Regulation of Food Markets; 4) Support to Urban Agriculture; 5) Education for Food Consumption; and 6) Job and Income Generation (including Professional Qualification). Some (although not all) of its main programmes are described below:

Subsidized Food Sales: Popular Restaurants
Probably the most iconic programme in the SMAAB’s repertoire of the past 15 years is the Popular
Restaurant (Restaurante Popular). These cafeteria‐style “Food and Nutrition Units” (as the restaurants are called in SMAAB’s technical documents) are serving a typical lunch meal of rice, beans, meat, vegetables, salad, and fruit (or juice) for the low price of R$1.00 until 2010 when the price increased to R$2.00 (US$1.20). Breakfast can be bought for R$0.50 (US$0.30), and a bowl of soup at dinner time for R$1.00 (US$0.60). There are now four Popular Restaurants in full operation in the city. Following a universal access policy, they offer daily meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner times to patrons ranging from low‐income families to university students, from homeless people to retired bank clerks. Each restaurant serves between 3000 and 8000 meals a day.

Food and Nutrition Assistance: School Meals and the Food Bank
The programmes under this line of work address specific needs providing direct food and nutrition
assistance to at‐risk groups in the city: children and youth, the elderly, homeless people. They are all
carried out through partnerships with other municipal departments and social assistance agencies, in
venues where at‐risk people already receive some attention (public schools and daycares, health clinics, nursing homes, shelters, and other charitable institutions). TThe largest programme under this line of work is the School Meals (Merenda Escolar) Program, which in 2007 served over 40 million meals to 155 thousand students in 218 public schools. The SMAAB Food Bank (Banco de Alimentos) is a recent (since 2004) addition among the Secretariat’s projects, and its specific objectives are to reduce unnecessary food waste and provide additional access to food to marginalized populations not covered by other city’s programs. As it happens with food banks elsewhere, the SMAAB food bank also receives donations from the food industry. But unlike typical food banks in North America, most of the food received by the SMAAB food bank is fresh produce. In partnership with the Municipal Secretariat for Urban Sanitation, the SMAAB food bank collects daily remains of fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers markets and grocery stores around the city. It then selects, cleans, and vacuum freezes perishable foods for distribution. In 2007 the SMAAB Food Bank distributed close to 600 tons of food to 108 institutions.

The Straight from the Country (Direto da Roça) and The Country Store (Armazém da Roça) programmes aim at facilitating direct interaction between small rural producers and urban consumers. By eliminating the intermediaries that normally operate in bringing the products of small rural producers to urban markets, SMAAB hopes to increase the income of small farmers and rural artisans and still offer high quality products to consumers at lower prices. The main goal of these programmes is to help rural families to establish themselves in the countryside, halting the rural‐urban migration which has inflated Belo Horizonte’s populations in the favelas (shantytowns). Rural producers selected through a public process are assigned fixed sale points throughout the city. As it happens in other SMAAB’s programs, sellers in Straight from the Country have their prices and the quality of their products closely regulated. In 2008, 34 rural producers from 8 different municipalities around Belo Horizonte participated in theprogram. They offered a variety of fresh leaf vegetables, roots, and fruits at lower prices than in other outlets.

In 2008, the city also supported the operation of 49 conventional Farmers Markets
(with 89 sellers), some of which operate in the evenings for the convenience of shoppers. And it
promoted 7 Organic Farmers Markets benefiting 8 small producers from 4 surrounding rural areas.

Support to Urban Agriculture
Projects in this line of work have the objective of promoting urban agriculture through participatory
community involvement and the use of agro‐ecological, sustainable methods. The four main projects
under operation are the Community Gardens (production of vegetables and medicinal plants in
communal spaces); School Gardens (production of vegetables to be used in school meals, and spaces for learning); Pro‐Orchard Project (planting of fruit trees in communal and school areas); and Workshops for Planting in Alternative Spaces (teaching techniques for planting herbs and medicinal plants in alternative areas such as pop bottles, wooden boxes, etc.). In 2008, the city had 44 community gardens and 60 school gardens. It distributed over 1,600 seedlings of fruit trees, and offered 62 workshops on gardening in alternative spaces attended by over 1,300 people.

Can these instruments be applied in other cities and what are prerequisites to do so??
The experiences of Belo Horizonte show that a prerequisite for a successful implementation of such a programme is a champion and the political will to take food security in a holistic way on the agenda. The champion should be a personality that has a clear vision and authentically can represent the idea of a food secure city. The mayor would be best to be this champion. The food security system hast to be developed by the city government including the different stakeholders and accommodating the various already ongoing initiatives.

Marielle Dubbeling
RUAF
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