Evolution of Rural Development Paradigm in Brazil

In a recent research seminar prof. Sergio Schneider (schneide@ufrgs.br), coordinator of the  Rural Development Post Graduate Program from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), presented a telling analysis of major changes in Rural Developments Policies in Brazil in the last twenty years. He explained that the recent evolution in rural development policies, as effectuated by president Lula, has to be understood within the context the evident political struggles on land. Brazil is a large country with traditionally a sharp contrast between the interests of agro-industrial conglomerates and social rural movements of landless people and peasants (e.g. MST).

This is reflected in a dualist agrarian structure between capitalist and entrepreneurial family farming and peasant familiy farming and rural poor (landless) who are struggling for survival and autonomy. In 1995 1 % of the owners with more then 1000 ha owned 45% of all land, while 90% of the owners with less then 100 ha owned only 20%. An unexpected and striking consequence of rural poverty is, that food security in rural areas is significantly lower then in urban areas. In rural areas 26% of the housholds suffers severe food insecurity versus 17% in urban areas. Because of this dualist agrarian structure Brazil is probably the only country in the world with two Ministries of Agriculture, serving different needs.

However, as Sergio Schneider argues, one can see recently how traditional opposing positions have overcome by a turn to a Rural Development Paradigm. Due to the (world wide) income squeeze on agriculture, both capitalist and entrepreneurial agriculture and peasant farming and rural poor are struggling and in need of alternatives, which has catalysed a paradigmatic turn in Rural Development Policies.

Sergio Scheider distinguishes three generations of Rural Development Policies, marked by two paradimatic turns:

  1. From 1993-1998 was agrarian (productivist) driven, with land reforms and credit facilities for the poor.
  2. From 1998-2004/5 was driven by social concerns regarding poverty (e.g. credit facilities, family scholarship), food security (e.g. zero hunger programs) and exclusion of large parts of the rural population (such as women, young farmers, traditional communities).
  3. From 2004/5 till today is driven by the quest for food security (new producers-consumer relations) and environmental sustainability (sustainable, agro-ecological farming practices and alternative energy sources).

A key element in the last turn is the notion that markets can work for the poor and hungry as well, provided that adequate policies and institutions are being developed.

Provision of school meals

Provision of school meals

An example is the food program that facilitates direct buying from farmers by schools, public supported restaurants, hospitals and for e.g. urban poor people and indigenous people. Public food procurement in Brazil is of incredible size and numbers. The budget for serving school meals (35,5 million students) has been raised to €500.000.000 in 2007 and due to a new law 30% of this budget can be spended in direct buying from peasants farms!