An agronomist and social activist, Valdo França is combating hunger and malnutrition in Brazil through an endeavor that encourages the production and distribution of a multi-nutrient supplement made from inexpensive, readily available local materials. His "anti-hunger campaign" includes a multimedia public education effort and a pilot project in the western state of Acre.
The New Idea
Valdo França and a number of like-minded associates with whom he is working are convinced that a simple and readily affordable program of dietary supplementation could markedly reduce the incidence of malnutrition in Brazil. Unfortunately, the processed foods that account for large and increasing shares of the food intakes of relatively poor (and nutritionally "at-risk") Brazilians are deficient in essential vitamins and minerals and fail to assure a nutritionally sufficient and balanced diet. But Valdo and his colleagues are persuaded that a low-cost and easily produced dietary supplement could remedy those deficiencies.The supplement that they advocate, which is called farinha multipla, is a meal, or flour-like substance, that can easily be incorporated in standard diets. Composed of wheat and rice bran, the leaves of manioc, sweet potato, zucchini and the seeds of melons and sunflowers, it is rich in nutrients and food scientists at the Universities of São Paulo and Minas Gerais have determined that it is an entirely safe and effective food supplement. It is also extremely inexpensive to produce, especially since several of its key ingredients are often discarded in food processing operations and can be obtained at very low cost. Furthermore, it can be easily mixed into several commonly consumed foods, either during the cooking process or on the plate, without distorting their taste.In an effort to encourage the widespread use of farinha multipla, Valdo and his associates are developing a broad array of public information materials. They are also encouraging municipal governments and other institutions involved in nutrition programs to use the product and they are currently implementing a pilot project in collaboration with a municipal government in the state of Acre.
Although Brazil has entered the ranks of "upper-middle-income economies" in the World Bank's tallies, it has a significantly higher prevalence of malnutrition than several of its lower-income neighbors. Among the most persuasive of the explanations for that disparity is Brazil's failure to deploy an effective and efficiently managed program of nutritional supplementation for low-income families.To the extent that they exist, state-sponsored nutrition programs commonly make use of industrially produced foods rather than less expensive, better tasting, locally or regionally produced foods and nutrient supplements. Most such programs subsidize and distribute five basic foodstuffs–rice, beans, wheat, sugar and coffee–and, in so doing, fail to provide the full range of nutrients required for a balanced and healthy diet. In addition, the impact of many such initiatives is further reduced by inefficient management and corrupt financial practices. (Private groups managing food distribution programs in Brazil have estimated that food actually provided to poor families accounts for no more than 30 percent of the funds allocated for government-sponsored nutrition programs.)As a result of the many shortcomings of existing initiatives, there continues to be an urgent need for new ways of addressing grave and persistent nutritional deficiencies in Brazil.
In implementing his "anti hunger campaign," Valdo is working with a network of individuals and groups that traces its origin to a Symposium Against Hunger that Valdo organized in 1989. The first of a series of four such gatherings, the 1989 symposium had as its principal aim the sharing and integration of promising strategies for ending hunger and widespread malnutrition in Brazil.Valdo draws on the network for help in several endeavors, including the production and distribution of a wide range of educational tools on farinha multipla and related nutrition topics. Among the tools that the network has produced is a series of flash cards with easily grasped visual information regarding the nutritional value of the foods normally present in popular diets and the nutrients present in farinha multipla. Other educational materials that the network has developed include videos, slides, a newsletter, posters and pamphlets for use in stimulating interest and gaining new adherents in the "anti hunger campaign" and recipes, both for making farinha multipla and for using it as a cooking ingredient. In an effort to bring the anti hunger campaign to television audiences, the network is also currently seeking financial support from banks and other sponsors for a weekly television broadcast.Valdo and his associates are encouraging municipalities and other institutions involved in food distribution projects to build new initiatives around the use of farinha multipla. In a pilot endeavor that is currently under way, members of the network are working with the municipal government of Rio Branco, the capital of the far western state of Acre, in the development of such an undertaking. With the assistance of the Polis Institute, a Sao Paulo-based nongovernmental organization with a public policy focus, Valdo and his associates have designed a process that includes teaching community groups in Rio Branco how to make farinha multipla, which the city government will then purchase and distribute through its public schools and health centers.Building on the expected success of the Rio Branco project, Valdo and his colleagues are planning similar initiatives with local governments in other parts of the country.
Valdo was born and raised in a farming community in the southern part of the state of São Paulo, where his father was one of the first farmers in the region to make extensive use of pesticides. The risks associated with that practice made a lasting impression on Valdo at an early age, when he lost two cousins to pesticide poisoning and saw countless animals die as a result of excessive pesticide use. He resolved then and there to campaign against the unregulated use of pesticides and he has been engaged in campaigns for that and similar causes ever since.Valdo received a degree in agronomy, with a specialization in soil management, from the University of Brasilia in 1977. His subsequent work–though far from conventional for university-trained agronomists–has involved a continuing focus on ecologically sustainable agricultural production, horticulture, reforestation, recovery of depleted soils and similar topics.Valdo was one of the pioneer champions in Brazil of "alternative agriculture"–i.e., farming without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. He developed a series of workshops and seminars in that field and founded a Free School of Ecological Agriculture, which offered a more formal curriculum on alternative agriculture, nutrition, garbage recycling and related topics. The school closed in 1991, for lack of sufficient funding, but Valdo and his associates in that venture continue to provide such courses on an informal basis in partnership with sympathetic universities, schools and churches.