Undermining 13 years of progress? How Brazil is risking its status as a global development leader

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - 12:58

Within a decade, Brazil has amazed and inspired the world, demonstrating that it is possible to tackle hunger and inequality with innovative, cross-sectoral and participatory policies. Extreme poverty has been reduced to 3%. Unemployment has been reduced to 5%. The historic inequalities between regions have been significantly diminished. Water storage and wealth distribution have allowed rural workers to face the most severe drought in 50 years without migration or hunger. The country was among the few to achieve Millennium Development Goals 1 and 4: tackling poverty and hunger, and reducing infant mortality.

The initial decisions taken by vice president Michel Temer, now in power, indicate that he will not maintain the commitments and policies towards redistribution and rights which have been in place for the past 13 years. The announced privatisation agenda , the proposed reduction of labour and pensioners’ rights, the weakening of social policies, the de-prioritization of policies for family farming and tackling hunger, and the dismantling of some poverty and inequality focused state institutions signal a substantial withdrawal on poverty and injustice eradication policies. As well as this reversal, there are clear signals of increased criminalisation of movements and repression of civil society movements campaigning for their rights. The democracy that was achieved through so many years of struggle by thousands of Brazilians is being fundamentally weakened! This is certainly a serious challenge for Brazilians, but why should the rest of the world care?

Also within the last decade, a shift in Brazilian foreign affairs policy has positioned the country as a leading player within the evolving geopolitical system. A pivotal aspect of this shift was to offer an alternative to traditional international development approaches, focused on the sharing of successful social policies and technical expertise on food security and poverty eradication across Africa and Latin America. In both, Brazilian international development cooperation has increased, with new emphasis on programs such as the School Feeding Programme (PNAE) and the Family Farming Food Acquisition Program (PAA).

Unfortunately, in the past few days, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced the closure of the General Coordination of Humanitarian Cooperation and Fight Against Hunger (CGFOME), as well as numerous embassies across Africa. Its functions will now be absorbed by the Brazilian Cooperation Agency and the Division of Social Issues. The CGFOME has played a key role in this cooperation, coordinating relationships between government agencies responsible for domestic policy implementation and countries which showed interest in the projects (for example: Niger, Senegal, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia). The closure of CGFOME weakens Brazil's capacity for cooperation in this area and indicates a de-prioritization of the fight against hunger.

One year on from the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, the upcoming UNGA meeting in New York will review progress and find a completely different Brazil. One that seems to regressing domestically with weakening labour & social rights and poverty eradication approaches, and also internationally with a reduction in ambition to fight exclusion globally. The agenda of redistribution and rights is more important than ever!