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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.



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Reference this page

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



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