The PAA: a Brazilian policy instrument that creates regional markets
Over the past few decades highly innovative policy instruments directed at the poorest layers of society, have been devised in Brazil. Most of these fall under the Zero Hunger strategy, launched in 2003. According to recently elected director general of the FAO, Jose Graziano, this strategy can be used as a reference for designing food and nutrition security policies elsewhere. The strategy reduced the number of undernourished people from 17 million to 11.9 million in the periods 2000-2002 and 2004-2006.
One of the elements of Zero Hunger was the Program of Food Acquisition (PAA). The PAA specifically targets family farmers by creating regional markets. Since 2003, more than R$ 3,5 billion was spent on the acquisition of approximately 3,1 million tons of food, involving, on average, about 160 thousand family farmers per year. The acquired food is passed on to about 25 thousand organizations or entities per year who, in turn, serve 15 million people.
Catia Grisa, a researcher specialised in family farming, agricultural policy, rural development and food security at the Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, has conducted research on the PAA experience. She analyzed: the relation between the PAA and the government bodies linked to it, the outcomes of the PAA and its interaction with family farmers. An article with more detailed information on the subject will be published in the next issue of the Farming Matters magazine.
Q: How well do you think regular/commodity markets suited for small scale farmers?
Even though family farming produces a significant amount of commodities – according to the last Brazilian agricultural census, conducted in 2006, family farmers were responsible for 46% of the national maize production, 21% of wheat, 16% of soy, 59% of pigs and 50% of poultry – they have difficulties in competing in these markets. Characteristic elements of these markets, such as large scale, increasing production costs, the constant need for technological innovation and the progressive externalization of production threaten the construction of an “autonomous and historically guaranteed reproduction” of family farms.
Another feature of these markets is that they enable a small number of transnationals to dominate value chains through fusions and acquisitions. These highly concentrated enterprises operate in the fields of production investment, input commercialization (fertilizers, agro-toxins, and seeds), transportation and storage and processing of cereals. This leaves little “room for manoeuvre” for family farmers whose productive activity becomes more and more dependent on the mercantile relations established by these “food empires”.
Q: What about local/regional markets?
Family farmers that experience difficulties in competing in commodity markets, which next to the characteristics mentioned before also operate along large distances and through impersonal relations, can seek differentiated markets that enable them to take advantage of their own characteristics such as their tradition, local culture, nature, craftsmanship, proximity and locality. These features are increasingly valued by “quality markets” and come together in local circuits, short chains and regional markets. These favour the use of productive and non-material resources (know- how, production and consumption habits, customs and social relations) that are locally available, enable more value to be created and give more “agency” to family farmers.
Nevertheless, insertion in these markets brings new challenges with regard to the reinvention of tradition, the adoption of new practices, compliance to food health and safety standards, etc.
Q: What is the PAA and how does it work?
The PAA is an institutional market that articulates a diversified demand for food with a local supply of produce from family farmers. In this market diversity in foods, sustainable farming, and the production and consumption of regional foods are valorised. It revitalizes products that are being forgotten over the past generations or that were of little commercial interest to the large networks of retailers. These foods go directly from the units of production to potential consumers (individuals or families that are in socially vulnerable or food insecure positions, social service organizations, schools, hospitals, etc.), often mediated by the farmers themselves or organisations that represent them. Besides nutritional requirements these foods feed new production practices, and local culture, social relations and economic life.
Moreover, as a result of these institutional markets - which have made the products from family farmers better known and valorised -, many groups of family farmers (formally or informally organised) experienced an increase in the demand for their products within the region. This has led to the strengthening or creation of new markets such as local open markets and direct sales to consumers.
Q: Given the success of the PAA, what would you advice other countries to do?
The PAA is a public policy instrument that simultaneously strengthens family farming, by guaranteeing the sale and price of produce, and a strategy that that strengthens nutritional and food security, through food donations or through the creation of public stock regulators. As Brazilian public administrators say, every real (R$) spent on family farmers is also a direct investment in food security. As a result of its success, countries in Latin America and Africa have sought to adopt similar programmes.
Nevertheless, some of the challenges that still remain in the Brazilian experience need to be considered. First, the programme encounters difficulty in addressing poor family farmers or specific groups (e.g. landless squatters, indigenous groups) that have organizational limitations or limited access to information.
Second are operational and logistic problems of the programme related to the high level of bureaucracy, delay in payments, food transportation and storage problems and the need for more public funding so that the programme can serve a larger number of family farmers.
- Growing a Better Future: Food justice in a resource-constrained world [Oxfam International, 2011]
Interview by Leonardo van den Berg