October 19, 2018, by Lexi Earl

An interview with Dr Tereza Campello, Visiting Research Fellow, Future Food Beacon


Dr Tereza Campello was the Minister of Social Development and Fight against Hunger in Brazil, from 2011-2016. Dr Campello formulated and coordinated the Brazil without Extreme Poverty Plan, which contributed decisively to the elevation of 22 million people out of extreme poverty. She coordinated the Food and Nutrition Security National Policy, which saw Brazil’s removal from the UN World Hunger Map in 2014. Dr Campello is the author of Faces of inequality in Brazil: a look at those left behind.  We are pleased to welcome Dr Campello to the Future Food Beacon as a Visiting Research Fellow in 2018/19. While in Nottingham she will be working on issues of food justice and equitable development. She was part of the judging panel for the Future Food Innovation Challenge and will continue to participate in Beacon activities during her time with us. Dr Campello is hosted in collaboration with the Rights and Justice research priority area, by Dr Karen Salt.

Lexi Earl spoke to Dr Campello about her background, research interests and plans for her year with the Beacon.


Can you tell me a little about yourself?

I have worked in government all my life, since becoming an economist. In Brazil we have municipal, state, and federal governments, and I had the opportunity to work in all of them. I experienced how cities work by working with the state government, and how federal government works in a country the size and complexity of Brazil. I worked in financial areas with participatory budgets. That was a very interesting experience because it became the most important participative experience in budgeting in public policy in the world. It was very interesting because I could see how the people in very poor areas could understand and learn very quickly, and have ideas about how to solve problems. You can really share technical experience, and popular knowledge. It was a very important moment in my career. After that I worked coordinating areas in the centre of the government. In the federal government I was an aide of President Lula.


Tell me about the Bolsa Familia Programme?

I was part of the group that built up a cash transfer programme called Bolsa Familia; now it is the biggest cash transfer programme in the world and the most successful. The project is most interesting in terms of health and education, because those are some of the conditions for the cash transfer. The project has been running for 15 years so it is possible now to have evidence based in research about the impact in different areas. For example, a study published in The Lancet, showed that we could reduce child mortality caused by malnutrition in 58% of children participating in Bolsa Familia, in comparison to other children [1]. Currently in Brazil there are 14 million families in the programme. We never imagined we could reduce these issues so much! There are conditions attached to the programme – children have to go to school from when they are 6 years old to when they are 17 years old. Children have to join the health system once they reach six months of age. Then we can follow their health through their lifetimes. The family accompanies the child, and then the doctor can also monitor the family.

        To change the situation, you need to do things with impact,

and think in terms of the people,

not in terms of money or success.


Tell me about your other work?

As an aide to President Lula, I worked with biofuels, other environmental and sustainable solutions in energy. I worked between agriculture, the environment, and small farmers. It was important to have an interdisciplinary view of these areas.


How did you become interested in working for government?

I was a very lucky person. I finished my course the same year that the dictatorship in Brazil ended. We had a new constitution, and new progressive governments in some municipalities. It was an opportunity to try to change the country. I started to work in Porto Alegre, in the south of Brazil, and I just stayed working within different aspects of government. It is part of my identity. From there I understood that to change the world, you need to have scale. To change the situation, you need to do things with impact, and think in terms of the people, not in terms of money or success. I think all governments must do these things. Now, as a researcher, I am always questioning what I can do to help the government make good decisions. I think about scale and impact all the time.


Can you tell me about some of your other projects and programmes?

An interesting programme I led was a programme to build cisterns for people in the north east of Brazil. Brazil has a big area (four times the side of the UK), which is semi-arid. Some of the people in the area are very poor, and they have no water. It is impossible to supply water because the families are very spread out, and it is impossible to have a pipeline. So we built this cistern programme, in collaboration with the people living in the area, and an NGO network called ASA (Semiarid articulation). We delivered 1.2 million cisterns to the people. It benefits around 5 million people in the area.

We also ran a very interesting programme around food and education. In Brazil, food in public schools is free, and we have 43 million children in schools from Monday to Friday. The main idea is: if it is possible to feed children in a healthy way, during this period, you can protect them. In the free school programme we decided that 30% of the food bought with federal money must to be bought from local, small farmers. It is fresh foods, vegetables, fruit, rice, beans, chicken. We also organised a programme to build kitchens because some schools had no kitchens to cook the food. Then we could tackle different problems. We created a permanent demand for small farmers so they could increase production. Children gained access to healthy food during school, and it was culturally appropriate and seasonal too.

Children are important to the success of these types of programmes. I worked on the programme against tobacco in Brazil, and it was a very very successful programme. In the 1990s we had approximately 37% of adults as smokers, and now we have less than 10%. That is a very important transformation. The children were a vehicle against smoking. “Dad! Don’t smoke, you will die!” and that kind of message. They can do the same with food, learning to eat fruits and vegetables at school and then wanting to eat that at home too.


What are your plans for the year?

I am working on a project proposal with Anne Touboulic, David Salt, Karen Salt, and the Future Food Beacon. The project will develop a methodology to map areas in large and medium-sized cities, where people have little or no access to healthy foods. It will focus in particular on low-income areas.For example, many people do not have access to refrigerators or only a very small one. So they cannot buy a lot of food. It gets wasted. Or if they are able to buy food, they have no storage for it. In general, people also run out of money at a certain point in the month. It is very difficult.

An example in Brazil are favelas. They are located in high hills, and are concentrated with people. Woman have to go to work at 4 in the morning, take a bus or train for 2 hours, and come back very late in the evening with the children. They have no place to buy things. A long time ago we had little groceries with fruits and vegetables on all the corners. Now all the corner stores are filled with biscuits… You can buy junk food on any corner in a favela but you have no place with fresh foods. Then it is impossible for the mother to cook fresh food. The project will map these “food deserts” and will also map the best practices to inspire solutions to solve the problem.

Another plan is dedicated to understanding the relations between poverty and inequality. In general, we think poverty and inequality are the same thing. But they are not. People think about poverty and inequality through understandings of income. But poverty, inequality and hunger are all complex, multidimensional phenomena. I am hoping we can organise a kind of matrix, helping us think about these three problems, understanding how different access determines each. For example, if you do not have access to a refrigerator, what impact on hunger, poverty, and inequality does this have? If you are poor, and have no access to electricity for example, it is more difficult to change your situation. People often criticise poor people for being lazy. But they are not lazy, they have no opportunities! They have to think about what they are going to eat tomorrow. They have no time to make plans and organize solutions to get out of poverty.

How can we think about inequality in terms of poor people? For example, access to water, – that is not income and yet it can change people’s situations. The FAO have a new report showing that hunger is increasing in the world again[2]. It had been falling for a long time, but has started increasing again. This is not because of a lack of technology, or climate change… In different parts of the world, social programmes are being cut and people are less well-off, including here in England. This is having adverse effects on our health too. Sometimes a person may suffer from hunger and malnutrition, and obesity at the same time. It is not simple.

Food is a right. But it is a financial problem too. What are the long-term costs of hunger, poverty, obesity? We can end hunger and reduce malnutrition with the technology we have available now. We can produce healthy food. We have enough food in the world to feed everyone. We know what we need to do. We have solutions. Scientists and research can help governments and politicians to make the correct decisions but it is a big challenge for us today.


       We have no time to waste to transform the world,

because we have problems with food, with climate change,

and we need solutions quickly.

[1] Rasella, D., Aguino, R., Santos, CAT., Paes-Sousa, R., and Barreto, ML. (2013). Effect of a conditional cash transfer programme on childhood mortality: a nationwide analysis of Brazilian municipalities. The Lancet 382 (9886), pp/57-64.

[2] FAO News




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