During a study visit by a team from the Republic of Congo at the Quilombola agroforestry, stakeholders learnt how the indigenous community of Quilombo do Campinh are harnessing the forest to produce food sold to the Quilombola School.

During a study visit by a team from the Republic of Congo at the Quilombola agroforestry, stakeholders learnt how the indigenous community of Quilombo do Campinh are harnessing the forest to produce food sold to the Quilombola School. © Centre of Excellence Against Hunger, Brazil.

During a technical study visit in Brazil under the project “Enhancing Family Farmers’ Access to Local Markets in the Republic of Congo through South-South Cooperation,” Maria Giulia Senesi and Mariana Carvalho at the Centre of Excellence Against Hunger in Brazil spoke to Vagner do Nascimento.  Vagner is the Coordinator of the Forum of Traditional Communities and Coordinator of the Observatory of Sustainable and Healthy Territories Angra, Paraty e Ubatuba (FCT) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The discussion focused on school meals within the culture and tradition of the indigenous community of Quilombo do Campinho. Brazil is one of the three co-chairs of the School Meals Coalition, together with Finland and France.


Can you share how important school meals are in the Quilombo do Campinho community; how are children and the indigenous community benefitting?


The Brazilian National School Feeding Programme (PNAE) is supported by a federal law that serves the public-school community in Brazil, and this is very important in various ways. Firstly, it emphasizes providing quality food for school children. There are studies and research on how children cannot learn if the food they are receiving is not nutritious. School meals, especially in traditional communities, integrate ways of life, ways of eating and producing food. If a child goes to school and eats unhealthy overprocessed food, for us, that’s a setback, because it’s not good for their health and their learning.


The legislation ensures students can have access to quality and nutritious traditional foods in a country that has a historical demand, increasing in recent years, of people without access to nutritious food. Two or three years ago, Brazil was featured on the Hunger Map and the law is helping to change the situation and considering the need of indigenous communities. Through this programme, we are making progress in increasing access to food for farmers and students. I really think this is an important public policy promoting school meals tailored for various communities.


Secondly the school feeding programme addresses an extremely important issue for farmers to sustain the critical traditional agriculture in their territories, communities, and places of origin where they live and organize socially. It is a law that recognizes traditional communities by their collective representation, which practices solidarity economy in their way of life. We organize ourselves as a formal group at the quilombo, so we are a priority within the programme, which is advancing more and more. It was very important to have women included in the priorities starting last year. Today, women in formal groups have priority to provide their agricultural produce for school meals.


How does the school feeding programme incorporate the quilombola culture and tradition in food production and preparation? Is there an aspect of the community that is valued through school meals?


Yes, very much! An important aspect is the form of production. Historically, these communities produce in solidarity, with mutirões (voluntary mutual aid for a community), collective organizing and planting. Agriculture in the community is strengthened by the National School Feeding Programme, and farmers deliver food to schools. Under the national programme, among other important provisions, at least 30 percent of the funds transferred by the federal government to public schools for the implementation of school meals must be spent exclusively on purchases from family farmers, and the closer they are to the school, the better. This scheme guarantees the supply of fresh food and stimulates local economies by creating a market for these local producers. We know our children are eating food produced locally, and that is strengthening production of local and desirable food.


Another aspect that I felt here, when we started adding our local products into school meals, was that when quilombo students see their farmer’s name, an uncle, or grandfather of theirs, on the food packaging they recognize the food’s origin and are happy it’s produced by people they trust. This highlights their identity within the school community. We advocate for a different type of education that recognizes and strengthens the culture of indigenous communities, and that demonstrates valuing and respecting other people’s way of life through food.


What are some issues related to the local context, challenges, and opportunities where the quilombola community feels that school meals can be a point of entry for discussion?


There are some challenges, such as the advancement of licensing and laws, policies on access to credit, and technical assistance to qualify to supply local food in schools. We have products that are not provided in school meals because these foods have not passed through a legal process to enable farmers to supply in schools.  An example is the juçara pulp, a palm tree from the Atlantic Forest, very rich in micronutrients. We need to use the legislation to regularise its inclusion in school meals. Children in the community are involved in the process, from planting to harvesting the juçara palm. This is an important plant we would like to increase in production and help to preserve the Atlantic Forest biome, and traditional territories.


Tell us about the work you are doing in the area of school meals in your capacity as coordinator of two entities, all supporting school meals?


I want to briefly say that this is a very opportune moment, because I am part of a discussion in Brasília which is advancing an agenda to build the national policy for agroecological and organic products. It is a great challenge to review the agroecology law and I am representing the Observatory and the Forum of Traditional Communities in this council. The moment is also opportune because we have welcomed a team from the Republic of Congo in Africa, that recently visited to seek knowledge and learn from our school meals policy and replicate best practices in their own country. Our community, Quilombo do Campinho was chosen to share our experiences and successes with the team.  This is very important in helping to improve school meals in other indigenous communities in the Congo.