Maria Emília Pacheco defends resuming Brazil’s Food Acquisition Program (PAA) to promote social justice
Maria Emilia L. Pacheco¹
When the National Supply Company (Conab) announced it would be contracting projects with associations and cooperatives under the federal government’s Food Acquisition Program (PAA), we celebrated a small, partial and insufficient victory of our “PAA – Healthy Food for the People” Campaign, launched by the National Agroecology Articulation (ANA), of which FASE is a member. The Campaign defends family and peasant agriculture, practiced by farmers with rights, who produce healthy food that represents the regional diversity of Brazil’s food cultures, and who demand an urgent re-activation of public procurement programs.
On April 27th, months after the pandemic was announced, Provisional Measure 957/2020 was published with the force of a law in the federal Official Gazette (DOU). It created an emergency R$ 500 million credit line, through the Citizenship Ministry, for 85,250 family farmers. But a substantial share of this amount is already committed, since from 2016 to 2019 several of the PAA’s mechanisms had been virtually paralyzed.
In the projects to be executed through Terms of Adhesion with states and municipalities, out of a projected total of R$ 150 million, approximately R$ 133 million will be used to renew existing projects and to cover a repressed demand in about 148 municipalities. This will also be the case for agreements with states in the semi-arid region for the purchase of milk (PAA Leite). Of the total of R$ 130 million, about R$ 103 million has already been allocated to renewals and to the inclusion of two new states. The calls issued by Conab in 2019 for projects from associations and cooperatives were not fully covered due to budget limitations, leaving a total of 1,088 projects, worth R$ 126 million, unfunded. There are also demands from organizations whose projects from 2018 are now running out. Altogether, this amounts to approximately R$ 200 million. Thus, about R$ 436 million was already at risk even before the pandemic. If R$ 186 million is actually authorized under the Annual Budget Law (LOA), and the Ministry of Economy does not suspend any more outlays, we will only have about R$ 186 million in new funds.
Besides coming late, the government’s decision is insufficient not only in terms of the support needed to effectively leverage the PAA, but also considering additional funding needed to cover demands raised by the Campaign. Our proposal for an emergency contribution of R$ 1 billion for this year, and the target of R$ 3 billion for next year, quickly gained nationwide support, as nearly nine hundred rural and urban organizations and social movements embraced the initiative.
In 2012, PAA operations peaked at nearly R$1 billion, serving 180,000 participants, including not only family farmers, but also 1,652 families in quilombola communities, 1,058 agroextractivist families, 754 families belonging to indigenous peoples and 2,362 fishing families. That was twice the number of family farmers currently included in the PAA.
Rice, beans and diversity
About 380 different product items have circulated in local economies. Food staples such as rice, beans, cassava flour and others, as well as regional products such as native fruits, gained a foothold in public procurement, thus asserting recognition of family farmers and agroextractivists, appreciation for plant extractivism and the conservation of biodiversity. 18,288 entities in 1,180 municipalities received food in 2012, 31.7% of them schools, 18.3% charitable associations and 10.8% community associations, as well as hospitals and other institutions.
The program’s history dates back to 2003, when an article establishing the PAA, drafted by the National Council for Food and Nutritional Security (CONSEA), was included by Congress in a new law (Law 10,696/03) on rural credit policies. The CONSEA was dissolved in 2019 by the current government. The PAA, however, has filled a gap in Brazilian agricultural policy by targeting food-growing family farmers whose produce is consumed by social groups vulnerable to food insecurity and hunger, thus integrating agricultural programs with food security and nutrition policies.
Proposals from social organizations and movements to expand and improve the PAA Program were not successful. One persistent problem has been the uneven distribution of resources that favored the PAA for milk over other modalities, since the focus on a single food item does not promote the logic of polycropping for peasant agriculture, or the importance of diversity for food and nutritional security. It would also be fundamental to rewrite the Terms of Adherence with states and municipalities, to allow for the purchase and payment of food directly from social organizations, rather than just individually as it is done now. Strengthening the farmers’ local organizations means expanding their participation in democratic ways.
Besides suffering budget cuts and losing its original design, the PAA was actually criminalized. In 2013 a police operation called Agrofantasma arrested several farmers and managers at Conab on warrants issued by Judge Sérgio Moro, under allegations of corruption and fraud. Years later, those accusations were all dropped, as groundless. But the class violence practiced by the state had already sown fear, destroyed agricultural systems and caused a decline in the Conab’s procurement activities.
The first time that indigenous peoples had access to a program supporting their production, consumption and income was in the state of Acre, when Ashaninka Indians became suppliers for the PAA. Support for their bean crops ensured income for this people and promoted the conservation of a Peruvian variety of beans. The organization of the Sataré-Mawé people² entered the PAA by building up stocks for payment in kind, with better-than-market returns for the extractivists. They created the Nusoken brand to market warana throughout the country and opened a processing plant in Parintins, in the state of Pará.
If the PAA had maintained this form of building up stocks for payment in kind, which was suspended in 2013, we would surely not be hearing so many sad voices from forest extractivists today, announcing the risk of losing 11,000 tons of Brazil nuts for lack of buyers. Ensuring extractivists’ income is a way of defending the standing forest. That is why this mechanism is on the campaign’s agenda for resumption of the PAA.
It is raining fine now in the Northeast, but markets are shut down, schools are closed and the right to school meals is not being respected, so the women in the Xique Xique Network are harvesting bumper crops of potatoes, yuca and regional fruits such as tamarind and cajarana, which are going to waste for lack of storage infrastructure and buyers. Babassu nut breakers also find it hard to market their nutritious food products, like the babassu mesocarp. Such examples demonstrate the importance of public procurement.
In 2011, Resolution 44 of the PAA Steering Group ensured at least 5% of the annual budget would be allocated to women’s organizations and that 45% of the farmers supplying the PAA’s various modalities would be women. In Sergipe, for example, the participation of women increased from 25% in 2009 to 40.3% in 2012, mainly due to the participation of mangaba fruit pickers. This Resolution must continue be applied to address the rights of women.
The PAA must be resumed not only during the emergency, but as a structural program to promote social justice. Evaluations of the PAA show favorable impacts on the lives of men and women farmers, through diversification of their production systems, conservation and management of biodiversity and appreciation of regional food products, guaranteeing income and better conditions for self-consumption. It has promoted a transition from conventional to agro-ecological farming, while dynamizing close-to-home markets with positive repercussions on local economies. It has also expanded networking and participation for women, favored interaction with organizations in cities that receive food and stimulated recognition of the role of family farmers, traditional peoples and communities that represent our socio-biodiversity.
 Social Anthropologist, consultant to FASE, member of the Executive Boards of ANA and of the Brazilian Forum for Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security (FBSSAN).
2] The Sateré-Mawé people call their place of origin Nusoken, home to mythical heroes, on the left bank of the Tapajós River, a rocky and dense forest region, “where the stones speak.”