New Study Indicates Significant Increase in Food and Nutrition Insecurity in Brazil

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Researchers from Freie Universität Berlin are investigating the pressing issue of food inequalities

No 089/2021 from May 14, 2021

According to a study conducted by researchers at Freie Universität Berlin in cooperation with Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais and Universidade de Brasília, as many as six out of ten households in Brazil are currently at risk of food and nutrition insecurity. This is an increase of about 23 percent compared to 2017 and 2018. Furthermore, the study found that there has been an 85 percent reduction in the consumption of healthy food during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The study points to Brazil’s regional differences in food insecurity (especially in the north and northeast of the country) in terms of food scarcity and limited options both in availability and quality. A number of different fascinating demographic insights were gleaned through the study; for example, single-parent families, especially those headed by women, low-income and poor households, rural populations, and homes with children were at a much greater risk of food insecurity. Race and ethnicity was another important factor, with about 67 percent of households made up of Black people or people of color describing their food situation as insecure.

The researchers also asked participants to evaluate their food consumption before and after the pandemic in order to assess the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak. The study highlights an overall reduction in the consumption of healthy, nutritious foods. Generally speaking, the respondents revealed that they now ate less meat, fruit, cheese, and vegetables, while consumption of eggs has increased in some cases. The researchers have suggested that eggs may have been used as a substitute for animal proteins due to the high prices or/and the lack of available meat products.

The data was collected as part of a public opinion poll in which standardized telephone interviews were conducted between November 21 and December 19, 2020, with a representative sample of the Brazilian population consisting of around 2,000 people. This set was intended to reflect all people in Brazil who are entitled to vote, which is currently 147,918,483 people according to the Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (the Superior Electoral Court).

"The results of the study indicate the consequences of the consensus agreed on in the 1990s, which no longer exists," explains Renata Motta, a professor of sociology at Freie Universität Berlin. "Back then, the state was committed to taking resolute and varied actions to tackle social inequality. However, hunger has become widespread throughout the country since the abandoning of the consensus." She adds that the situation has deteriorated since 2016 due to factors such as austerity and cuts to programs supporting smaller farms that produce foodstuffs for the domestic market. Motta says that instruments of participative democracy, such as national boards and conferences, which have a long history in Brazil, need to be reintroduced to national policies that bolster food security: "The fight against hunger does not depend on the volume of agricultural products grown in the country, but policies that support the redistribution of foodstuffs and improve access to them."