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Fome Zero
Alex Steffen, 4 Dec 03

Fome Zero ("Zero Hunger") is Lula's plan to end hunger in Brazil within the next three years.

While certainly big and bold, the plan's first half-year was, it's pretty universally-acknowledged, somewhat bungled. Efforts to provide initial food relief to the four million poorest Brazilians ran into a logjam of problems, ranging from finding that many of them were illiterate and had no ID (and thus couldn't find out about or register for the aid) to local corruption and huge logistical snafus involved in delivering aid to people who live without roads, electricity, phones, or often fixed addresses. By September, the right-wing press in Brazil (never very pleased with Lula's landslide election to begin with) was crowing that Fome Zero was dead.

But not so fast. Lula & Co. have come back swinging, with a whole raft of loosely-bound-together innovations and reforms: registering 30 million potential recipients with the state-run national bank (through which they will also be able to open saving accounts and receive microcredit loans, the plan goes), consolidating a bunch of government agencies, introducing a credit-card like food card (with R$50 in food credit per family) so that paperwork can be digitized and the poor are less likely to be cheated, and so on. It's something of a muddle, but parts of it are extremely innovative.

It may work. The Fome Zero plan's success seems to hinge on this distinction: is Fome Zero about feeding hungry people, or is it about building a new and innovative framework for getting services (starting with food) to the 50+ million Brazilians who live in abject poverty? Each view is held by factions within the government coalition.

If it proves to be the former, well, who can really complain? No one should go hungry on a planet as rich as ours. But if it's the latter - if Fome Zero in fact becomes a new framework for delivering desperately poor people the fundamentals of development: not just food, but distributed power systems (next on Lula's agenda), access to education and health care, water and waste systems, subsistence skills, microcredit and so on - Fome Zero may become one of the most important development models on Earth.

But that jury is still, most definitely, out.

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