Menu ENN Search

How to engage across sectors: Lessons from agriculture and nutrition in the Brazilian School Feeding Programme

Summary of research*

Location: Brazil

What we know: Historically, successful collaboration between agriculture, nutrition and health sectors has proved challenging.

What this article adds: A recent study identified five key lessons for promoting inter-sectorality for nutrition, based on the Brazilian experience of linking family farming with the National School Feeding Programme. The lessons were: identifying a common political, philosophical or governance space to enable sectors to convene; form coalitions with more powerful sectors with a shared (non-nutrition) goal which can help deliver on nutrition objectives; position nutrition and health goals as solutions (not problems) to the interests of other sectors; obtain evidence of successful inter-sectoral work; be bold in ideas for cross-sectoral work.

Brazil’s National School Feeding Programme, Programa Nacional de Alimentação Escolar (PNAE), is a universal and free programme that began in 1954 and that currently serves 45.6 million public school students. In June 2009, a law was signed in Brazil requiring that 30% of the food budget of the national school feeding programme should be used to purchase foods directly from family farms. This study examines integrating family farming and nutrition into a legal framework in Brazil to identify lessons on how to successfully shift other sectors toward nutrition goals. 

Information and perspectives on the development of Article 14 were obtained from interviews with 18 leading actors involved, during February and July 2010. Questions explored the nature of the inter-sectoral approach, interests and values involved, and factors both facilitating and presenting barriers to the approval of Article 14. Documentation on the history of the development of the law and key antecedent actions from published documents was also examined.

The study provided five key lessons for promoting inter-sectorality for nutrition, based on the Brazilian experience of linking family farming with the National School Feeding Programme, as follows: 

Lesson One: Identify or create a triage of spaces to bring together different sectors – political, philosophical, and governance spaces

In 2003, food security moved to the centre of the political stage with the development of a new programme, Fome Zero. This emphasised the need for structural reform to address income poverty and encourage the production of lower-cost food, including by supporting family farmers. A large, cross-sectoral government civil society group, CONSEA, was established to advise the President on policies and actions needed to promote food and nutrition security. The new Government also created the Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos (PAA – Food Acquisition Programme), which purchases food directly from family farms and distributes it to institutions and families at risk of food and nutritional insecurity by social programmes.

The addition of nutrition into the concept of food security was forged during this process and formally approved at the second Conferência Nacional de Segurança Alimentar e Nutricional (CNSAN – National Conference on Food and Nutrition Security) in 2004. According to this broader concept, as a way of ensuring the human right to adequate food, public policies on food and nutrition security should not only encompass actions to improve availability of and access to food, but also promote and protect sustainable and healthy diets. This concept links the nutritional dimension of food security that puts all sectors and their priorities and agendas in the same space.

Crucial to this was an inter-sectoral framework of food and nutrition security that provided the philosophical space to put the two problems of food security and nutrition together, the policy space provided by the new Government for this joint issue, and the governance provided by CONSEA to make it happen.

Lesson Two: Forming coalitions with more powerful sectors focused on achieving a common political goal that can help move them toward nutrition and health goals

Successful lobbying for Article 14 was strengthened by three overlapping advocacy coalitions. The first was between the relevant government ministries and agencies who had first discussed family farming-PNAE links. The second coalition consisted of food security advocates, Frente Parlamentar de Segurança Alimentar e Nutricional (Parliamentary Front on Food and Nutrition Security), comprising over 230 deputies and senators in 2007, led by an influential politician who partnered with civil society. The third coalition was a group of family farming advocates, which provided strong mobilisation and extensive, well-organised advocacy activities.

Improving nutritional outcomes was not the primary goal of Article 14. The stated aim was to support local economic development, not to improve nutrition. Nutrition interests were represented within the various groups, but not central to discussions, and the process lacked a clearly distinguishable coalition formed around nutrition and health interests. Nutritionists did advocate to ensure that, by law, a nutritionist should design the menus for the PNAE and to include specific nutritional standards for school meals within the final Bill. The authors argue that politically it served the nutrition interest not to focus on the nutrition technicalities but on a common goal: to change the PNAE. Engagement of nutritionists with a clear nutrition objective was important; however not focusing on that goal as the foundation of the coalition was politically advantageous.

These experiences suggest that the political process of identifying and participating in a strong coalition that is able to cause change in the right direction, and that is focused on fighting for a common goal into which nutrition and health can fit, is more important than an explicit nutrition goal, which is often called for by the international nutrition community in nutrition-focused development (UNSCN, 2015).  

Lesson Three: Positioning nutrition and health goals as a solution that meets the interests of other sectors

Article 14 explicitly met the interests of family farmers through new markets and income generation, which secured the backing of family farming interests. Thus the incentive for inter-sectorality came from a solution, rather than a problem. Article 14 met the interests of a more powerful sector, family farmers, and nutrition and health goals were met as a by-product.

Lesson Four: Obtaining evidence that the inter-sectoral approach can work

Article 14 was not the first initiative in Brazil linking family farmers with markets. Most notable was the Food Acquisition Programme (PAA) established in 2003. This group had a crucial role in the approval of Article 14 by providing evidence that family farming works; specifically and notably that the pricing and procurement mechanism could work and family farmers could supply sufficient food.

Lesson Five: Not being afraid of bold ideas when working with other sectors

Article 14 was a bold and appealing idea. It not only had the political appeal of supporting family farmers and economic development, but “it was an important political force in the minds of the population, the social imagination and the enhancement of self-esteem of the farmers because it will nourish the children”. Principles, language, assumptions and approaches change when working with other sectors: they can be exploited for mutual advantage.

This study on policy processes shows how a convergence of factors enabled a link between family farming and school feeding in Brazil. It highlights key strategies in engaging other sectors on working towards nutrition goals to benefit all sectors involved.


UNSCN 2015 – United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition. A road map for scaling-up nutrition (SUN). [Place unknown]: Scaling Up Nutrition Road Map Task Team; 2010 [cited 2015 Mar 27]. Available from:



*Hawkes C, Brazil GB, Castro IR, Jaime PC (2016). How to engage across sectors: lessons from agriculture and nutrition in the Brazilian School Feeding Program. Rev Saude Publica. 2016 Aug 11;50:47. doi: 10.1590/S1518-8787.2016050006506.



More like this

FEX: Direct procurement from family farms for national school feeding programme in Brazil

Research By Claudia Rodriguez, Iris Emanuelly Segura, Ana Paula Cantarino Frasão de Carmo, Daniela Bicalho, Vanessa Manfre Garcia Souza, Flavia Schwartzman and...

FEX: Participatory Approach to Food Security in Uganda

By Erin Culbertson and Moses Kalyebara Erin Culbertson has been the Technical Writer for Plan Uganda since July 2003. As part of her primary degree in Public and...

FEX: Improving food and nutrition security for households with underweight children in Taita Taveta County, Kenya

By Dancliff Mbura, Caroline Chiedo, Fridah Mutea and Amelia Reese-Masterson Amelia Reese-Masterson is Research Advisor at IMC, providing technical guidance and oversight for...

FEX: Realising rights and livelihoods opportunities among tribal populations in rural India

By Salome Yesudas Salome Yesudas works as a consultant with several organisations on local food systems and nutrition-sensitive agriculture, specialising in uncultivated...

NEX: Global School Feeding Sourcebook: Lessons from 14 countries

About one in five children (nearly 368 million children) receive a meal at school every day, which amounts to a global investment of around US$75 billion per year. While there...

FEX: A food-based strategy to improve nutrition in emergencies

Improvement of Household Food Security through Home Gardening and Nutrition Education in Southern Somalia By Alison MacColl Alison MacColl is working as Liaison Officer in...

FEX: Child stunting in Brazil

Summary of published research1 A study to assess trends in the prevalence and social distribution of child stunting in Brazil and to evaluate the effect of relatively recent...

FEX: Political economy of adaptation through crop diversification in Malawi

Summary of article1 A government agricultural extension officer showing a farmer how to care for a cassava plant (FAO supported project) The seriousness of the problem of...

FEX: WTO Negotiations on Improving Food Aid

By Susanne Jaspars and Chris Leather, Oxfam GB Susanne Jaspars was the team leader for Oxfam's emergency food security and livelihoods team from October 2002 to June 2005. She...

FEX: Making Famine in Sudan

Queueing in the Pakor Supplementary Feeding Centre David Keene, researcher and author of 'The Benefits of Famine' gives the political history and context surrounding the...

FEX: Donor lessons on linking emergency and development funding in urban programming

Summary of article1 Food Insecurity Lessons in Kenya Location: urban Kenya What we know: The urban population in Kenya is disproportionately affected by food insecurity...

NEX: A new SUN civil society network: Advice from nutrition champions on set-up

Charulatha Banerjee, ENN's Asia Regional Knowledge Management Specialist, put questions from the Philippine Coalition of Advocates in Nutrition champions with knowledge of...

FEX: Concerns on Global HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria Fund conflicts of interest

Summary of letter1 and responses2,3 A typical example of a shebeen in an informal settlement, Namibia This article raises a number of issues about corporate sponsorship in the...

FEX: Famine Cry: Iraq

May 5, 2003 Dear Field Exchange As we prepare to mount a colossal humanitarian intervention in Iraq, we should be circumspect and humble about our past foodaid operations in...

FEX: BabyWASH coalition planned to overcome development silos

By Peter Hynes, World Vision Actors from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), donors, academia, United Nations (UN) agencies and others met recently to consider forming a...

FEX: Meeting Point : Local CBO in Uganda

By Fiona Mitchell, GOAL, and Mary Corbett, ENN A Meeting Point staff member with a young child Fiona Mitchell is the Development Programme Coordinator, GOAL Uganda The...

FEX: Aid for Nutrition: maximising the impact of nutrition-sensitive interventions

By Samuel Hauenstein Swan and Hugh Lort-Philips, Action Against Hunger/ACF International and Dr Stephen Spratt, Institute of Development Studies (IDS) Synopsis of...

FEX: Aid for Nutrition: maximising the impact of nutrition-sensitive interventions

Synopsis of report1 By Samuel Hauenstein Swan and Hugh Lort-Philips, Action Against Hunger/ACF International and Dr Stephen Spratt, Institute of Development Studies...

FEX: The potential of nutrition-sensitive Conservation Agriculture: lessons from Zambia

By Anne Marie Mayer, Marjolein-Mwanamwenge and Carl Whal Anne Marie Mayer works as a freelance nutritionist specialising in the links between agriculture and nutrition. She...

FEX: Cuba

Cover of Cuba childrens book According to a news piece in the LANCET1, the '41- year battle of spite between Cuba and the USA has intensified'. In July 2004, restrictions on...


Reference this page

Hawkes C, Brazil GB, Castro IR, Jaime PC (2016). How to engage across sectors: Lessons from agriculture and nutrition in the Brazilian School Feeding Programme. Field Exchange 53, November 2016. p38.