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Food security in pandemic times

Recently, the results of a survey conducted in December 2020 by the Brazilian Network on Sovereignty and Food and Nutritional Security (Rede PENSSAN) were published, with the support of ActionAid, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Ibirapitanga and Oxfam. This research, entitled “National Survey on Food Insecurity in the Context of the Covid-19 Pandemic in Brazil”, presents a new map of hunger in Brazil. The economic, political and health crisis in the country has allowed us to reach alarming numbers.

Food security, in a nutshell, is the wide regular and permanent access to food, in adequate quantity and quality; it is when an individual does not need to give up other things to purchase food for the day to day of his family. There is also the opposite concept: food insecurity, which can be classified as mild, moderate and severe. The latter characterizes the condition of hunger, as established by EBIA - Brazilian Food Insecurity Scale. This scale has been applied by the Brazilian Government since 2004.

To measure food insecurity in the midst of a pandemic, the PENSSAN Network applied EBIA in December 2020, questioning families about their food consumption in the 3 months prior to the interview. The results show that the degree of food insecurity increased greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic. 2,180 households in the five regions of the country were interviewed, both in urban and rural areas - which characterizes a probabilistic sample representative of the Brazilian population, thus enabling the comparison of results with previous surveys. Of these households, only 44.8% are food security. This means that 55.2%, about 117 million Brazilians, are in a situation of food insecurity, without permanent and full access to food. Among them, in a serious situation - characterizing hunger - are 19 million Brazilians (9%). In other words, 1 in 10 Brazilians is going hungry!

Since 2004, many social actions and policies have been applied to reduce Brazilian food insecurity, culminating, in 2014, with the departure of Brazil from the UN World Hunger Map (United Nations), a fact much celebrated by CONSEA - National Security Council Food and Nutritional. At the time, the National Household Sample Survey (PNAD) carried out in 2013 identified the lowest level of serious food security in Brazil since the beginning of the application of EBIA: about 4% of the population.

Later, in 2018, the Family Budget Survey (POF) identified that 36% of households had some degree of food insecurity. What we see is that, in just over 2 years, there was a significant increase in the number of Brazilians who are going hungry; the 2020 numbers surpass those recorded at the beginning of the past decade. The current result shows the acceleration of food insecurity in Brazil, which had been growing even before the pandemic was established, thanks to economic instability and the demobilization of public food security policies, such as the extinction and subsequent re-creation of CONSEA.

In terms of regions, the North region of the country has the highest rate of severe food insecurity: 18.1%; practically 1 in 5 people is in a situation of hunger. Next is the Northeast, with 13.8%. Midwest has 6.9%. South and Southeast have the lowest index, 6%. The family composition of the interviewees was also analyzed: families headed by women are more likely to find themselves in food insecurity. The same is true of ethnic issues: residences inhabited by self-declared black and brown citizens are also in a more vulnerable situation. Also, aspects related to educational training also strongly affect the food security index. Families whose per capita income is at least 1 minimum wage have neither moderate nor severe food insecurity rates. This, however, does not exclude them from the slight degree of food insecurity: they are families / citizens who, due to the crisis caused by the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic lost their job, or no longer have a guaranteed income, and may have ended up choosing for low-priced foods, easy access and low nutritional quality, which still leads to some degree of malnutrition, since in the future they will be more prone to obesity and diabetes, among other diseases directly related to nutrition, called Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases .

Access to water, called water insecurity, was also measured in the survey in question. In the middle of 2020, 40.2% of households in the Northeast and 38.4% in the North do not have access to drinking water, directly affecting the food of these families, in addition to the sanitary conditions, so important to be reinforced in times of spread of the Coronavirus .

Governmental actions such as emergency aid are essential to ensure that a large part of Brazilian families remain food secure. Ordinary citizens are eventually touched by these numbers, but they do not know how to contribute. Looking for support actions organized by civil society (NGOs, neighborhood associations, activist groups, among others) is a first way to help, even without depending on your income. There are, for example, “solidarity apps” that convert small actions and / or clicks into food donations. The Zero Hunger Institute, an initiative founded in October 2020 by Professor José Graziano da Silva, former director-general of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), meets this unfortunate situation in which society finds itself. Brazilian. We at Instituto Comida do Amanhã are partners of Instituto Fome Zero and believe that food and nutrition security in Brazil needs to be seriously combated. With the end of the emergency aid, the numbers tend to worsen, more families will be affected by hunger. We hope that the presentation of these alarming data will result in more robust initiatives to reduce food insecurity in Brazil.


VIGISAN 2021. Inquérito Nacional sobre Insegurança Alimentar no Contexto da Pandemia da Covid-19 no Brasil. Pesquisa realizada pela Rede Brasileira em Soberania e Segurança Alimentar e Nutricional, disponível em:

PNAD 2014. Pesquisa Nacional de Amostra de Domicílios: síntese de indicadores 2013, realizada pelo Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), disponível em:

POF 2018. Pesquisa de Orçamentos Familiares 2017-2018: primeiros resultados, realizada pelo Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), disponível em:


About the author:

Alexia Hoppe is a Food Engineer and PhD in Administration. She is an independent researcher and works as a collaborator on projects related to the food industry in Brazil and agribusiness, with her main areas of research: global value chain, marketing, innovation and certifications, food waste and sustainability.



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