Brazil’s Lula: How to end hunger? First, believe it can be done.

The post is by Warren Nyamugasira, who attended ‘Towards African Renaissance: Renewed Partnership for a Unified Approach to End Hunger in Africa by 2025‘ in Addis Ababa from 29 June – 1 July. 

After years of attending such high level meetings, helping to draft communiqués and declarations, no one would be blamed for approaching these meetings with a lot of scepticism.

This meeting was no exception until Lula da Silva, former President of Brazil, took to the podium and blew many of us in civil society away by articulating what had worked for Brazil under his tenure of presidency. This resonated with what we had always said, but which was often dismissed as untenable.

First is the need to believe that hunger can be ended. Without belief, there is no need to try to end it.

Second is the political will and determination to end poverty and hunger during one’s tenure of public office or in one’s life time. Lula said initially there is a lot of resistance to focusing on the poor – resistance by economists and even government ministers who argue that government cannot afford to fund consumption expenditure and that cash transfers make people lazy. There must be a determination to stay the course until the ‘resisters’ see results and are won over.

Third is for government to put the poor firmly and visibly inside the budget at all levels of government. Without visibility in the budget, Lula explained, poverty and hunger can never be ended. His government budgeted for cash transfers, school feeding programmes and free access to health, but these social protection programmes needed to be designed and delivered in a manner that contributes to the growth of the economy.  Brazil found the answer in women. When social protection programmes were delivered through women, the receipts were directed towards productive activities. Women supplied and consumed local products. Preferences and tastes were re-directed to these products. The economy boomed. Economists were disarmed.

Fourth is to create economic growth and poverty reduction at the same time. President Lula argued this turns the ‘trickle down” economic theory on its head, when the economy oftentimes can register impressive growth rates yet poverty increases at the same time. This scenario is avoidable if there is political determination. There are approaches that mobilise everyone to participate in generating the growth in the economy and enjoying the benefits of that growth.

And lastly, to acknowledge that it can’t be done when working alone. Lula told us point blank: No government will end hunger working alone. No private sector will do it working alone. No civil society will do it either, working alone. The rest of his message needs no further elaboration. All stakeholders are important. All hands are needed on deck.

Lula’s speech was a huge contrast to the speeches of many of our leaders on the African continent. With many, there is mission creep. They have been moving to occupy the advocacy space traditionally the domain of civil society. They focus on what should be done: Africa must invest in modernising its agriculture, Africa must end poverty and Africa must focus on the woman who produces 80% of the food we eat.

Lula’s message to them: “It is good to attend conferences; it is good to talk and to make resolutions. But is far better to act and it can be done”. This message from across the Atlantic Ocean is exemplified by some African countries. They promised, they allocated budgets and they insisted on and got results. Nine African countries, including Ethiopia, which was the host of the meeting, have shown that what Lula was saying can actually be done.

Talking to a NEPAD official,  there is conviction among those who draft communiqués that the time has come for such meetings to focus not on what our leaders resolve and commit to doing, but on how to get it done.

Any resolution without the ‘how’ is not worth the paper it is written on. Too many resolutions and declaration are gathering dust on shelves, if they make it to there to begin with.

In 2014, the year of African Agriculture, we must avoid asking for and getting more resolutions, except for one resolution: the resolution to act.


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