TACOMA, Washington — As food production has slowed or halted in many regions of the world due to COVID-19, many people are finding themselves more vulnerable to hunger. To many, such as the citizens of the Brazilian favelas, the increased strain to provide food across the nation has become emblematic of a problem they have had for decades.
There are numerous favelas throughout the urban hubs of Brazil, mostly surrounding large cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Many have become quite large, with some Rio favelas having populations of more than 1.5 million. They are characterized as slums, unofficial communities housing some of the poorest citizens in the nation. For many, the growing intensity of the pandemic has turned the difficult task of keeping their families fed into an impossible ordeal. For a variety of reasons, hunger in favelas is reaching new heights for many, and these communities are finding themselves disproportionately impacted by the socio-economic effects of COVID-19.
Food Shortages and COVID-19
In Brazil, food inequality is an issue that continues to grow. Now, as farmers find their livelihoods at risk in a COVID-19 world, impoverished communities are left in the most precarious positions. According to CEPEA Brazil, the pandemic has led to the collapse of supply chains that farmers need to send their products out promptly. This can mean that food will spoil before it can be sold, and it limits how far from home these fresh fruits and vegetables can travel. As a result, farmers have been forced to make difficult decisions on where to sell their produce.
Meanwhile, families living in Brazil’s favelas have a grim choice to face: risk contracting a life-threatening disease or go hungry. According to data collected by the Data Favela research institute, 70% of those living in favelas have seen a decrease in income since the pandemic began, and many have found themselves fully laid-off in the past year. Now, as less food is available for sale if a citizen cannot work, they will not be able to eat, increasing food inequality and hunger in Brazilian favelas. Many families must make do with highly processed foods to stay fed.
Food Waste in Brazil
Another issue farmers in Brazil face amid the COVID-19 pandemic is that while half the food does not reach all citizens equally, the other half simply has nowhere to go. With supply chains unable to accept as much of a load as they could in the past, more food will be left behind on farms, and be thrown away or destroyed. Food waste is on an uptick this year, once again causing hardship for impoverished Brazilians and increasing hunger in favelas.
While troublesome, the issue of food waste is not new in Brazil. Often, nations will see around 30% of their food wasted annually, with some nations having even higher numbers. And most evidently, this issue will always impact the impoverished first. As this inequality allows for growing food deserts in favelas, the dependence on unhealthy, innutritious and affordable foods grows.
Thankfully, while there are many hurdles to overcome to solve the problem of hunger in favelas, some humanitarian organizations have ideas of how to get started.
Groups Making a Difference
JBS — On World Food Day 2020, JBS, one of the largest food-processing companies in the world, organized a week-long drive that would provide 120,000 families with meals. At the same time, the company announced the intention of supporting other initiatives that would provide for hungry families. This included the Mothers in Favelas Program, which provides food cards and baskets to single mothers in nearly 5,000 favelas. Gilberto Tomazoni, CEO of JBS, hopes that this exhibits his company’s dedication to providing food to those in need throughout Brazil.
Regina Tchelly — With a creative approach to hunger in favelas, chef Regina Tchelly is utilizing food waste as a tool against hunger. Living in the slums herself, Tchelly is well-aware of the hardships those living in a slum go through and has spent the past years teaching her neighbors how to do a lot with a little food. She uses strategies in cooking with scraps and tossed food products to make sure that nothing goes to waste. In 2020, she moved her classes online and continues to educate others on affordable ways to make nutritious meals with what favelas have to offer.
The Campo-Favela Project — Created by a group of researchers with Insper and LSE, the Campo-Favela Project aims to ensure people living in favelas have the nutritious food they need to survive. The group has managed to buy more than 600 tons of fresh produce and send them out to many favelas across Brazil, giving thousands of families the food they need. Food baskets were taken to communities in need, and the project aims to specifically create channels to work with smaller farmers. The Campo-Favela project has been able to work around many of the flaws in Brazil’s food distribution system and lays out solutions to these problems in the future.
Thanks to organizations like these three and more, the issue of feeding all citizens of Brazil has become more manageable than in the past. Although the problem of hunger in favelas may outlast this pandemic, with the right focus on the core causes of hunger, a difference can be made.
– Matthew McKee