Climate Change and food security: How Belo Horizonte is killing two birds with one stone
There are 842 million undernourished people in the world today who do not have access to sufficient quantities of healthy food. The impacts of climate change threaten to significantly increase the number of people at risk of hunger and malnutrition over the next decades. The effect of a changing climate on food production is intuitive: Warming temperatures, floods, droughts and pestilence are already devastating harvests in many parts of the world. Volatile and unreliable food production leads to famine, migration and war. Modern agriculture’s impact on the climate is obvious as well: Production and distribution of food within a globalized economy account for high CO2 emissions because of energy intensive farming systems and long transportation routes.
A comprehensive policy framework introduced in the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil addresses both these aspects.
The policy is based on a municipal law stipulating the right to food and over 20 different programmes that ensure compliance with this law and provide food for all population groups.
The goals of the policy are to support affordable, local and diverse agriculture while working towards food sovereignty for the city’s 2.5 million inhabitants. Central to the policy is the support of local and regional family farms: Local producers are given market space to sell their products within the city, resulting in higher profits for the farmers, easy accessibility and cheaper prices for the consumers by cutting out the middlemen.
Furthermore, public procurement from family farmers 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. Increased government purchase of local and diverse products generates more income. 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.
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. A new programme initiated by the Food Security Secretariat is the planting of fruit trees in public space, demonstrating that squares could serve as food sources as well.
A central result of the policy framework is the near elimination of hunger in Belo Horizonte. In addition, the policy has had multiple positive side effects like increased resilience to the effects of climate change as well as rising food prices on the international markets, and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from food transportation, as there is now a closer interaction between small rural producers and urban consumers.
While many modern cities may not have the ability to feed all their inhabitants, Belo Horizonte is evidence that it is possible to reduce the radius of cities’ food sources while tackling a broad spectrum of different issues simultaneously.
Saturday, September 13th, 2014