Hunger in the country is greater in homes with children up to 10 years old, says survey

The second stage of the Vigisan (National Survey on Food Security in the Context of the Covid-19 Pandemic in Brazil), released today, reveals that hunger plagues homes where children under the age of ten live more.

According to the survey, 37.8% of the households where these children live face severe or moderate food insecurity, that is, they are hungry or have an insufficient diet. The percentage is 20% higher than the national average of 30.7%, when all households are taken into account.

The survey was carried out by Penssan (Brazilian Network for Research in Food and Nutrition Sovereignty and Security), which involves six partner entities. In June, the first phase of the survey showed that 33 million Brazilians are severely food insecure, that is, they are hungry.

“It is clear that the greater the number of children in a house, the greater the chance of having food insecurity, the more hungry. There is a direct relationship because the demand of children is greater”, says Rosana Salles Costa, from the UFRJ Nutrition Institute (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) and researcher at the Penssan network.

“When you have a child in a family with adequate income, there’s no problem paying for a private school; or, if it’s public, you can buy material, meet health demands. When not, these families have to make choices”, he adds.

The level of food security is divided into four grades:

Food safety: today reaches 41.3% of Brazilians. It is when the family has regular and permanent access to quality food in sufficient quantity, without compromising access to other essential needs.

Mild food insecurity: reaches 28% of Brazilians. It is when the family is concerned or uncertain about access to food in the future, with inadequate quality resulting from strategies that aim not to compromise the quantity of food.

Moderate food insecurity: reaches 15.2% of Brazilians. It is when there is a quantitative reduction of food among adults and/or disruption in eating patterns resulting from lack of food.

Severe food insecurity: reaches 15.5% of Brazilians. It is when there is a quantitative reduction of food among children and/or disruption in eating patterns resulting from lack of food.

The survey takes into account any household with at least one resident up to nine years of age. The survey was carried out in 12,745 households in 577 municipalities in the 26 states and the Federal District, in urban and rural areas.

Data collection took place between November 2021 and April 2022. It uses as a parameter the EBIA (Brazilian Scale of Food Insecurity), also used by the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics).

The higher percentage of hunger in homes with children may be one of the reflections of the new Auxílio Brasil approach, which created a floor that did not take into account the number of children in a home. As a result, a household with an adult currently receives the same amount (R$ 600) per month as a household where five children and their mother live, for example.

“The value of Auxílio Brasil is not enough to take the family out of food insecurity. They continue to suffer, and this shows how important income is”, says Kiko Afonso, director of the NGO Ação da Cidadania, one of the members of the Penssan network.

All these issues are linked to social assistance. The government says that it has increased the aid to R$ 600, but forgets to mention who froze this amount for the government until 2021. We have staggering numbers of families with children, with several states having more than 60% of children in food insecure households.”
Kiko Afonso, from the NGO Ação da Cidadania

regional differences

Among the regions, the North and Northeast are the ones with the worst rates. In the North, for example, 51.9% of households where children live experience severe or moderate food insecurity. In the Northeast, this average is 49.4%, reaching a national apex in Maranhão, with an average of 63.3%.

For Kiko Afonso, this entire context of hunger is directly related to the end of social policies, such as the PAA (Food Acquisition Program) by the federal government, which bought food from rural producers.

“These public policies were the mainspring of food security. Today you have policies focused on agribusiness to the detriment of small producers”, he says.

He states that it is not against the country to have this focus, as long as it does not abandon those who produce most of the food consumed in the country.

We are against you just looking at the agro to the detriment of the medium and small producer; to allocate all the resources to irrigate these commodity plantations, while the small and medium ones have suffered without funding and without technical assistance.”
Kiko Afonso, from the NGO Ação da Cidadania

Rosana Salles Costa points out that today, for example, there is a lag in values ​​passed on to municipalities for the purchase of school lunches. The PNAE (National School Feeding Program) currently only transfers R$ 0.36 per meal to elementary school students, and the value has been frozen for five years.

The recomposition of values ​​was even approved in the LDO (Budget Guidelines Law) in Congress, but was vetoed by President Jair Bolsonaro (PL).

“Snacks are one of the essential policies to minimize the problems of school meals. However, the increase in the price of food, without readjusting the value transferred, has hit those places and families that are more vulnerable, who no longer have access to public schools. access to quality food”, he says.

There are also difficulties in the public structure that directly affect family income. An example is the lack of day care centers for mothers to leave their children.

“As she doesn’t have a place at the day care center, she ends up not going out to work; or when she leaves, she pays a neighbor to take care of her while she does work. This income would help give her access to adequate food”, he says.

Northeast has the largest population of hungry

Vigisan data also provide an overview of hunger (not only in households with children), with emphasis on the North and Northeast regions. in terms of insecurity severe and moderate food intake, the states of Maranhão, Amapá and Alagoas lead in terms of percentage.

In absolute numbers, the Northeast region has the largest population of hungry people. Altogether, in the region, there are 12.1 million people with severe food insecurity. Among the states, the highlight goes to the 6.8 million hungry people in the state of São Paulo — the largest contingent in the country — and Rio de Janeiro, with 2.7 million (second place).

Regarding these differences between states, she explains that historical economic situations directly affect the data, but local policies and the very variation in the price of a basic food basket within the same region help to cause this inequality.

Costa also explains that the study will be passed on to all state governments so that they can start thinking about actions to alleviate the problem.

They will look at the data and start planning what to do from now on to reduce levels of food insecurity. It is the decisions of these government agendas, within their states, that can help to provide food security.”
Rosana Salles Costa, from UFRJ and the Penssan network

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