Magenta Griffith wins the free copy of Metatropolis (and should be getting follow up details about claiming the prize via email). Magenta gave us a link about a city in Brazil recruiting local farmers and business people to end hunger in their city, viewing food as a right, not a privilege.

The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system. The city already involved regular citizens directly in allocating municipal resources—the “participatory budgeting” that started in the 1970s and has since spread across Brazil. During the first six years of Belo’s food-as-a-right policy, perhaps in response to the new emphasis on food security, the number of citizens engaging in the city’s participatory budgeting process doubled to more than 31,000.

The city of Belo Horizonte puts “Direct From the Country” farmer produce stands throughout busy downtown areas. Photo by Leah Rimkus

The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers. It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.

By the way, the article also links to the stunningly democratic, and successful, approach that is spreading around Brazil of ‘participatory budgeting,’ where the populace gets the direct means to influence how their city spends its municipal budget.

Dig this:

In March there are plenary assemblies in each of the city’s 16 districts as well as assemblies dealing with such areas as transportation, health, education, sports, and economic development. These large meetings—with participation that can reach over 1,000—elect delegates to represent specific neighborhoods. The mayor and staff attend to respond to citizen concerns.

In subsequent months these delegates meet weekly or biweekly in each district to acquaint themselves with the technical criteria involved in requesting a project be brought to a district and to deliberate about the district’s needs. Representatives from the city’s departments participate according to their specialties. These intermediary meetings come to a close when, at a second regional plenary, regional delegates prioritize the district’s demands and elect councillors to serve on the Municipal Council of the Budget.

The council is a 42-member forum of representatives of all the districts and thematic meetings. Its main function is to reconcile the demands of each district with available resources, and to propose and approve an overall municipal budget. The resulting budget is binding—the city council can suggest changes but not require them. The budget is submitted to the mayor who may veto it and remand it to the Municipal Council of the Budget, but this has never happened. If there are residual problems, the council works out changes, returning to their neighborhoods for feedback.

The internet provides an ongoing vehicle for involvement in participatory budgeting, which the city now extends to city planning features like land use and long-term major investments. The city posts progress reports, budget updates, and a calendar of all meetings.