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Alleviating Poverty in Brazil


For many years, international property and land investors viewed Brazil as a country where inequality was a widespread problem - and therefore one to be avoided. In modern times, the contrary is becoming more apparent with a growing amount of evidence pointing to decreasing levels of those living under the poverty line.

As a result of two notably successful social programmes - the Bolsa Família (‘Family Grant') and Fome Zero ('Zero Hunger') - visible results in terms of lower poverty levels and improved literacy skills have, in turn, empowered those previously caught in the vicious poverty cycle.


Launched in October 2003, the Bolsa Família ('Family Grant') was established under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva Worker's Party government and provides financial assistance to poor families in Brazil as well as expanding support schemes started under the previous administration (led by Fernando Henrique Cardoso).

The grants are given to families on a monthly income of lower than 140 Brazilian reais based on the following conditions:

(i) That their children go to school (attendance levels are checked);

(ii) That their children get vaccinated;

(iii) The family makes use of designated health cards and other social services.

The basic grant is $BRL 68 per month, plus $BRL 22 per child under 16 years of age and $BRL 33 per adolescent. The aim of the programme is to fight long-term poverty via indirectly increasing the education and health of the population.

The creation of the Bolsa Família was the centre of Lula da Silva's election victory in 2006 and is currently serving over 12.4 million Brazilian families (with more enrolling on a daily basis). Whilst other comparable programs exist in Latin America (such as Mexico's 'Oportunidades' and other schemes in Colombia and Chile) this is the largest conditional cash transfer programme in the continent and the globe.

The programme also continues to partner with several micro-credit projects in the North East to assist what is, evidentially, the poorest part of Brazil.

As with any initiative of this scale, teething problems have existed (mainly with regards to means testing) yet it is widely believe to be one of the main contributory factors leading to the reduction of poverty in Brazil. Since 2003, the number of people living on less than $1 a day has dropped by 21 percent - from 15.4 million to 11.3 million in 2008 (a figure that continues to drop). Evidence, published in 2009, has also pointed to the fact that over half a million Brazilian children and adults that received benefits through the Bolsa Família or registered in the country´s social programs database became literate in 2006 and 2007. At the same time, the number of people entering literacy programmes increased by 12 percentage points, 88 percent of which were in the country's North East region.

The Ministry of Social Development expects the program to reach 12.9 million families in 2010 as well as get 200,000+ people into jobs in construction and tourism. According to Camile Mesquita, director for the management of income transfer programmes at the Ministry of Social Development and Fight against Hunger: "the Bolsa Família is, for many people, the first security they have had."


Essentially working in conjunction with the Bolsa Família, the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) program was established in 2003 to offer assistance to the low-income population and has thus far reached over 44 million Brazilians through cash transfers, food banks, community kitchens and markets and school meals.

Through its Social Mobilization Agenda, Zero Hunger coordinates the efforts of the Education Network for Citizenship (Programa Educação para a Cidadania) and the Committee of Entities Against Hunger and For Life (Rede Nacional de Mobilização Social or COEP).

The principle guideline for the strategy, that an adequate diet is a basic human right, was reinforced by the Food Security Charter (Carta de Segurança Alimentar) approved in 2006 (where a nationwide system was created in which local organisations, national authorities and civil society work collectively on actions against hunger with established mechanisms to monitor the state of nutrition in the country).

Despite a number of initial setbacks, Rosana Heringer, executive coordinator Action Aid, the international anti-poverty agency said in 2009: "No other developing country in recent years has made as much progress in reducing hunger as Brazil". Evidence by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicated malnutrition has been reduced by 73 percent in the last six years. National infant mortality levels have also fallen from 39 (in 1996) to 22 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2009.

About Author Ruban Selvanayagam :

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Article Added on Tuesday, July 13, 2010
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