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‘The partnership between school feeding programmes and rural technical assistance has a transformative potential’

Through rural technical assistance, Brazil has become an international reference for the promotion of public procurement of family farming and access to other public policies

Paulo Beraldo

A partnership with the potential to transform the lives of smallholder producers and feed millions of students. That is the definition of the union between rural technical assistance and school feeding programmes for Mariana Matias, executive director of the Brazilian Association of Technical Assistance and Rural Extension, Agricultural Research and Land Regularization Entities (Asbraer, by its Portuguese acronym). 

In an interview with the RAES platform, Mariana highlighted the high impact of rural technical assistance in Brazil’s National School Feeding Programme (PNAE, by its Portuguese acronym), which serves 41 million students daily. According to her, technical assistance is the bridge between the PNAE and many smallholder farmers who would not have access to this public policy. By law, since 2009, PNAE purchases 30% from family farming, generating an important market for thousands of families.

“This Brazilian support to the PNAE is an important reference and constitutes an experience to be disseminated nationally and internationally,” she evaluates. “The technicians in this great articulation present public policies to many producers so that they can sell their products in the best way. And we know that access to markets is one of the biggest challenges for smallholder farmers”. 

In 2022, Asbraer expanded its scope and no longer represents only public technical assistance entities in the 26 Brazilian states and the Federal District, but also began to receive research and land regularization institutions. “We opened up our scope to generate access to entities, including international ones, intending to exchange information and make partnerships with various institutions.”

Brazil has public technical assistance in all its provinces, with about 15,000 extensionists in 5,500 cities. Among the services offered are guidance in production planning, training in marketing, content on home economics, methods for accessing state public procurement policies, such as the PNAE, recommendations on good agricultural practices, and support for formalization and promotion of associationism and cooperativism.

Mariana assesses that technical assistance has been fundamental for development because it brings public policies to the countryside and promotes best production practices, stimulating the domestic market and increasing family income. “It is a service that improves the quality of life of family farming, raising productivity with the introduction of technologies and strengthening the entire chain.”

Technical Cooperation Agreements

Asbraer was founded in 1990, and since 2009 has a technical cooperation agreement with the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC, by its Portuguese acronym) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for international cooperation. Since then, knowledge exchanges have been promoted with at least 15 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa. “The country that wants to learn more about Asbraer’s work should contact ABC/MRE and formalize the cooperation request,” explains Mariana.

She also points out that inter-institutional dialogue – as occurs in international cooperation in partnership with ABC, the United Nations, and governments – strengthens everyone involved, providing tools and contact with knowledge that was not previously available. “All of this is intended to allow smallholder farmers to be in contact with the best and the newest available information.”

“These partnerships bring a lot of knowledge not only for the countries but also for our extension workers and family farmers. It is a fundamental work. We observe experiences in the technical area and also innovations in regulatory frameworks and methodologies that we can implement here in Brazil.”

Challenges and recommendations

As challenges, Mariana cites the need for family farmers to obtain the necessary requirements to offer protein in school meals in Brazil, a difficulty reported by several partners in different regions. The training of extensionists in all stages of the production and procurement processes is also a recurring theme. 

“This is to guarantee that farmers are always well informed, have the best possible information, and understand what may be within their reach so that regional products and the agricultural vocations of each locality are valued.”

As recommendations, she advocates the exchange of internal knowledge, saying that it is necessary to encourage dialogue between different provinces, which allows them to get in touch with the best practices and replicate them. 

Mariana reinforces that the alliance between school feeding and technical assistance has the potential to transform local economies and people’s lives. The first step for the country, province, or city is to analyze the market structure, laws, and regulatory frameworks available. “Public procurement generates gains for all involved, such as students and schools, but mainly for family farmers, who will have a secure market for their products.”