Local food helps fight hunger

Inspiration from Belo Horizonte, Brasil.


Brian Halweil | May 2005 issue

In their book Hope’s Edge, Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé chronicle the “new social mentality” that took root in Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s fourth largest city, where one-fifth of the city’s youngest children used to be malnourished. The city decided to improve the way that the local food market worked. It started providing four nutritious meals each day to all students at the city’s schools. It set up more than 40 local farmers with produce stands around town. And it opened (and runs) the Restaurante Popular (the people’s restaurant), which serves over 6,000 meals a day at less than half the market price. Belo Horizonte’s “Green Basket” program links hospitals, restaurants, and other big food buyers to local, organic growers.

The foundation of this effort is a network of 26 warehouse-sized stores around Belo that sell local produce at fixed prices—often half of what nearby grocers charge. These stores are located on prime urban real estate that the city rents to entrepreneurs at rock-bottom prices. In exchange, the city reserves the right to set the price of produce and obligates the vendors to make weekend deliveries to poor neighbourhoods outside of the city centre that don’t have ready access to good produce.

The government is able to keep down the costs of these programs—they consume less than 1 percent of the city’s budget—by helping to improve the functioning of the free market, rather than running it. The school meal program, for instance, has doubled the amount of calories kids got by cutting out processed foods, buying more local ingredients with lower transport costs, and by expanding the number of suppliers to let competition bring the prices down. The government of Belo Horizonte sees these efforts as cost effective because it knows good nutrition means its kids do better in school and its citizens don’t get sick as often.

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Local food helps fight hunger

Inspiration from Belo Horizonte, Brasil.


Brian Halweil | May 2005 issue

In their book Hope’s Edge, Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé chronicle the “new social mentality” that took root in Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s fourth largest city, where one-fifth of the city’s youngest children used to be malnourished. The city decided to improve the way that the local food market worked. It started providing four nutritious meals each day to all students at the city’s schools. It set up more than 40 local farmers with produce stands around town. And it opened (and runs) the Restaurante Popular (the people’s restaurant), which serves over 6,000 meals a day at less than half the market price. Belo Horizonte’s “Green Basket” program links hospitals, restaurants, and other big food buyers to local, organic growers.

The foundation of this effort is a network of 26 warehouse-sized stores around Belo that sell local produce at fixed prices—often half of what nearby grocers charge. These stores are located on prime urban real estate that the city rents to entrepreneurs at rock-bottom prices. In exchange, the city reserves the right to set the price of produce and obligates the vendors to make weekend deliveries to poor neighbourhoods outside of the city centre that don’t have ready access to good produce.

The government is able to keep down the costs of these programs—they consume less than 1 percent of the city’s budget—by helping to improve the functioning of the free market, rather than running it. The school meal program, for instance, has doubled the amount of calories kids got by cutting out processed foods, buying more local ingredients with lower transport costs, and by expanding the number of suppliers to let competition bring the prices down. The government of Belo Horizonte sees these efforts as cost effective because it knows good nutrition means its kids do better in school and its citizens don’t get sick as often.

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