Thanks to EU-Brazil Civil Society Round Table, which ended just yesterday in Brasilia, I have acquired a deeper insight into this vibrant nation. Brazil is a country to which we Europeans could start paying more attention and from which we have much to learn. As an emerging economic power and given the proven impact of civil society input into the country’s social inclusion policies, I feel Brazil deserves more credit for its increased involvement in the global political agenda. We had the opportunity to meet Brazilian civil society and discuss topics related to food security, inevitably linking it to agricultural production and resource management, and the need to make it sustainable in social, economic and environmental terms.
Our Committee will shortly report on the findings of the Round Table. I’d like to reflect a little more here on some aspects which impressed me most in Brazil, starting with its leadership. I admire the inclusive approach of the Brazilian president whom I met briefly yesterday. Dilma Rousseff is committed to economic and social growth so that millions of Brazilians can enjoy full rights as citizens. Her declared vision is to reach out for the first time to people who have been long excluded from the economy and financial systems and empower them to bring their values and hopes to bear in the future policies of their country. Brazil, as a new and thriving democracy, is thus fertile ground for expanding civil society involvement in the policymaking process.
As the fifth largest country in the world, with a very young population (around 60% of Brazilians are under 29) and an expanding economy, Brazil has become a stabile democracy. That said, it remains one of the most unequal countries in the world in various respects. This is an acknowledged fact – and is a state of affairs that the Brazilian government and civil society are working hard to change. The best proof of this is the election of a woman to the highest office in the land, at a time when gender equality in Brazil is still a major social issue.
Brazilians have also taken a very practical approach to food security. They have adopted a human-rights type framework and enshrined in law the right to food as a fundamental social right. Of course you may say that Brazil is still far removed from securing food for everyone and eradicating extreme poverty. But I was surprised to learn about the government's measures on these fronts, instigated and implemented in partnership with national and international NGOs, public and private companies and associations: the Zero Hunger Programme, the subsidised canteens, the food banks, the Family Allowance Programme (Bolsa Familia), the National School Meals Programme - to mention just a few.
You may of course wonder, as some of our members did, to what extent these initiatives are sustainable. We heard a very pragmatic argument on this question from a Brazilian civil society colleague: people are hungry NOW. For example, 45 million pupils receive school lunches and 30% of food has to be bought from family agriculture and local production. This convinced me that it is very likely possible to strike a balance between short-term solutions to eradicating extreme poverty, ensuring the right to food, and long-term sustainable and innovative growth schemes.
In our future discussions with Brazilian civil society representatives, we will go deeper into sustainable development issues. Our premise is that there is a need for a paradigm shift in order to foster sustainable development practices in all policies, and effect the move towards a green economy. Again, in all these changes, I believe it is civil society that will play the decisive role, as fundamental change always comes from the grassroots and is never decreed from the top down.