“Brazil isn’t a poor country, but it’s a country that is home to many poor people, thanks to centuries of social injustice and inequality,” de Sousa said recently at the IDB. The minister, who heads a program called Zero Hunger, noted that although Brazil is one of the ten countries with the greatest income concentrations in the world--in that the richest 10 percent earn 44.7% of the country's total income, one-fourth of its population still lives below the poverty line. Zero Hunger aims to reduce poverty and hunger in Brazil through the social inclusion of the most vulnerable population groups, who are the most likely to suffer from hunger.
His ministry, created in January 2004, develops social policies and coordinates with other ministries to integrate hunger eradication efforts into those ministries’ programs. One of those programs, Bolsa Familia, aims to ensure that Brazil’s economic growth also benefits the least protected population groups.
The program consists of providing direct cash transfers to poor families that meet a series of conditions. In the short term, the program aims to alleviate poverty; while in the medium term, the goal is to improve health conditions and education. Usually, the woman in the household, in her role as integrator of the family, is selected to administer the financial aid for her family.
As of December 2005, some 8.7 million families had received US$3 billion, representing 0.36% of Brazil’s GDP. De Sousa said that the cash transfers are entirely tied to the families’ compliance with a series of conditions related to the education and vaccination of the family’s children, as well as care for pregnant women in the family. Compliance with the conditions is closely monitored, not only to punish noncompliance, but also to ensure that the rights of beneficiaries are respected. To that end, social assistance centers are being created in every city.
In addition to Bolsa Familia, other programs exist to end child labor by providing social and financial assistance, as well as loans and technical support to families in the agricultural sector. The Ministry of Social Development and the Fight against Hunger also has an important joint initiative with the Ministry of Labor to increase the professional skills of the poorest citizens, facilitating their integration into the labor market.
Minister de Sousa said that the Brazilian experience is very valuable, and that similar programs have been undertaken across Latin America, according to local conditions in each country.
De Sousa thanked the IDB for its collaboration in strengthening Brazil’s social protection system and said that the Bank’s relationship with Brazil is defined by a long-term strategy to achieve economic and social development.
Brazil’s Minister of Social Development and the Fight against Hunger, Patrus Ananias de Sousa, gave his presentation as part of the Inter-American Development Bank’s Forum of the Americas program, which analyzes development issues affecting Latin America and the Caribbean.