June 26, 2017
Posted by: Melody Mendonca, Centre for Studies in Food Security
This past June, researchers from Ryerson’s School of Nutrition and the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) in Vietnam participated in a knowledge exchange trip to Belo Horizonte, Brazil. As part of the ECOSUN project which is a larger food systems project between the two institutions, the aim of the exchange was to learn about urban agriculture, the role of government in implementing food security programs and the active participation of farmers in Brazil.
The delegation met with municipal administrators and visited a variety of food security programs run by the municipality of Belo Horizonte some of which included the Popular Restaurant which is a canteen style eatery open to all citizens but subsidized for food insecure individuals, the Food Bank, School Meals Program and a Straight from the Farm stall – a municipal run permit program that lets individual farmers set up a stall in residential neighborhoods to sell their products directly to consumers. The counterparts from NIN were especially impressed by programs like the Straight from the Farm and pointed out that it minimizes the migration from rural to urban areas and integrates urban food security into nutrition policy.
The group also visited a farming community about 2 hours outside of Belo Horizonte. There they spoke with Valeria, a farmer leader in the community who teaches farm settlements in crop diversification and agro-ecological practices. Although it had been difficult to get farmers to switch from conventional farming techniques to agro-ecological practices, Valeria said that showing farmers it works and demonstrating the benefits convinced many to switch. Valeria also gathers women farmers who struggle to sell their produce and helps them form agricultural cooperatives to supply fruits and vegetables to school meal programs.
Valeria and her farming peers were curious to learn about farming in Vietnam and NIN shared some of the challenges such as use of chemicals and pesticides, food safety, and government’s role such as through providing free irrigation during years when there is less rain.
As NIN is currently actively involved in developing a National Nutrition Strategy and Nutrition Action Plan for Vietnam, they are in search of best-practices and evidence in food security and nutrition from other countries of similar income levels. As a result, the Exchange trip to Brazil gave them the opportunity to identify some best practices and models to take back to Vietnam. They also stated that they appreciated being able to see the various approaches in inter-sectoral partnering at the grassroots level, particularly in education, agriculture and women’s empowerment.