Entire families scavenging through the garbage or waiting in line to pick up a few chicken bones to make soup are no longer images of the past and have reappeared with force in the electoral campaign. The return of hunger is one of the factors that will weigh most heavily when Brazilians go to the polls this Sunday to elect a new president.
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There are currently 33.1 million people in Brazil suffering from hunger and 125 million in a situation of food insecurity (when they do not know if they will be able to eat three meals a day), according to a report by the Pensann Network, formed by researchers from several Brazilian centers and universities.
Although in August and September, Brazil registered deflation (mainly due to the fall in fuel prices), food prices, which affect the poorest people the most, continue to rise. Moreover, although unemployment has fallen to 9.1 percent, there are still 60 million people who are either unemployed or working less than they would like, often in informal jobs with which they can barely survive.
Currently, more than 20 million low-income families receive a monthly allowance of 600 reais ($112), which has proven insufficient to offset the effect of inflation on the shopping basket. Bolsonaro's government extended the emergency aid given during the pandemic until December of this year, which was interpreted as an electioneering measure in search of votes among the poorest.
It did not work. The majority of those receiving such government aid support Lula, polls show. It was mainly due to the memory of his social programs when he was in government, such as "Zero Hunger" and "Bolsa Familia," projects that were key to lifting millions of Brazilians out of misery. In 2014, the UN removed Brazil from the Hunger Map.
In his speeches, Lula regrets that this legacy has been destroyed and stresses that the fight against hunger will again be his number one priority if he wins the elections. In his government program, which is only 21 pages long, he mentions hunger 11 times. Lula promises to "put the poor within the budget" and to make fixed the social aids that Bolsonaro conceived temporarily.
He also plans to support family farming and agrarian reform to guarantee food sovereignty, take back control over Petrobras' pricing policy and invest in food stocks to regulate prices.
In contrast to the left-wing leader's stance, Bolsonaro barely mentions the issue of hunger in his speeches and interviews and when he does, it is to deny that there is a problem. "Has anyone seen anyone asking for bread at the door of a bakery? It doesn't fucking exist," he said at the end of August in an interview with the Jovem Pan radio station.
In his government program, he does not make too much self-criticism and blames the situation on the covid-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine. He highlights that, since 2019, poverty grew by 40 percent in the rest of the planet, while in Brazil, the increase was lower, at 13.9 percent, a result that, in his opinion, is due "to the efficiency of the public policies" adopted.
The text cites a series of liberal measures to fight hunger, such as reducing taxes, reducing bureaucracy in the economy and reducing the size of the State because it considers that this is the way to generate employment and income.
Brazilians who "go hungry" will be decisive in these elections. Those with a family income of at most one minimum wage (1,212 reais, 225.7 dollars), the poorest, are an essential part of the population, 33.8 million people (Brazil has approximately 215 million inhabitants).
In this poorest social group, Lula would have 57 percent of the votes, against Bolsonaro's 23 percent, according to the Ipec poll of September 26. In general terms, the former president also leads in the vast majority of polls in view of the elections to be held on October 2.
If no candidate obtains half plus one of the valid votes this Sunday, there will be a second round on October 30 with the two most voted candidates.