INTERVIEW WITH MR. DANIEL BALABAN, DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE AGAINST HUNGER – WFP.
Check out the interview with Mr. Daniel Balaban, director of the Centre of Excellence against Hunger, World Food Programme of the United Nations – WFP, South-South Cooperation project.
SSC: Which initiative from the Center would you consider the most referential and impactful?
Daniel Balaban: All the initiatives from the Center of Excellence have an impact, is not possible to talk about only one. But the most interesting, is making international cooperation the way we are making it, with countries that are interested. The World Food Programme, the world’s biggest cooperation agency, normally doesn’t work with cooperation for development, its an action agency that goes wherever it needs to go and do whatever it needs to do. Today there are five High-Level Task Forces that are in place in a high-level emergency within the WFP: Ukraine, Iraq, Palestine, South Sudan and the Ebola matter, which never have happened before (5 high-level emergency operations). The WFP is an agency prepared to attend people in emergency situations.
Cooperation for development is different: works with people in order to create conditions and institutions, so they wont need humanitarian help in the future. Creating these conditions is much slower and difficult in any country in the world: it has to develop, create its institutions, make its politics, which is something extremely complex. Today we have worked supporting these countries on creating these institutions, so they wont depend on external help or international organizations. It is a hard work that must have a large commitment from the government and from the citizens, the civil society. They trust a lot because they envision Brazil as a country that used to be extremely dependent on external help, and nowadays it gives help. Brazil has really developed over years and managed to step out of the poor country level and move to a respected country within the international scenario.
SSC: Which are the Brazilian resources for the projects in partnership with the Center?
Daniel Balaban: As Brazil doesn’t centralize resources for cooperation, there are funding for activities that comes from different Ministries. The resource that we have and support within Brazil comes from the Ministry of Education (MEC), from the National Fund for Education Development (FNDE), for cooperation with countries in the creation of school alimentary programs, therefore, why Education.
We help countries create their school alimentary programs based on the purchase of local farming families: to make small farming families produce food and make governments buy this food in order to feed and keep children in the school and, at the same time, develop the farming families from these countries. It has been a strong demand from countries over the world the hunger and the hidden hunger: the lack of nutrients – many times you are hungry and fill yourself with something so you are not hungry anymore, but your are not nourished so you are going to die anyway. Our body requires balance and nutrients. Who produces healthy aliments, such as fruits and vegetables, that gives the enough nutrients, vitamins and proteins that you need? It’s the small farming families that will make this food arrive.
If you buy any industrial juice, there isn’t anything natural in it. Today the world is getting more and more concerned with this issue, thus, creating this program creates nutritional education for children, and those children who learned this since early age, will become adults with less diseases. Today, 80% of diseases treated in hospitals are derived from bad alimentation, from bad food that we eat everyday. So, if children start to understand this, the health costs from any country will reduce. It is preferable today to create programs of incentive in education and school feeding, because in the future we will be able to save money. This is the element that comes from the Education Ministry and, for that, today the Education is our main partner.
SSC: In your opinion, how Brazil can increase its role and optimize cooperation politics in the area of health and nutritional security?
Daniel Balaban: First, Brazil has to create a uniqueness that doesn’t exist. There are many initiatives from many actors, but there isn’t someone who follows so that Brazil knows what is doing. Brazil needs, first, to understand the importance of cooperation so that it can be respected as a player in the international scope. Its not enough just to request a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. What has Brazil done to deserve it? You have to put your cards on the table and say in what do you influence within the international scenario, and cooperation is an influence. To have an idea, the United Kingdom has a budget from the Department of International Development (DFID) that cooperates here with BRICS and the Center of Excellence. The brits are clever, the DFID has a billionaire budget for cooperation, and why is that? Because there are a strong returns in terms of influence in the country. And Brazil has yet a lot to advance in this area.
SSC: Which impact does the Center of Excellence has for the Brazilian domestic agenda within the health security area?
Daniel Balaban: In the domestic agenda we work a lot supporting the FNDE, that has a budget and that help and support us. But FNDE has to take care of the whole school alimentary program in Brazil and it has a network of universities, which support them. The Brazilian school alimentary program has a decentralized format: the resources are decentralized for each municipality according with the number of students that each city has. So, depending on where those students are (are they indian, quilombolas, in kindergarden or high school) there is a unitary amount of resources per capita that is forwarded every month. This is done through a specific account that is coordinate and managed by the City Hall of each town. To avoid the deviation of these resources, it was created in all the 5.564 cities a school alimentary council that has to be legally instituted. They are the student’s parents, school directors, teachers and schools, people from the civil society that are nominated as councilor and investigate how much resource arrived and if the resources were purchased. There are norms: it cannot be bought fat food, filled biscuits, sodas, everything has to be balanced and the nutritionist appointed has to make a balanced menu. This council has to be trained for this verification process. Who does this are the universities and we help organize and create booklets. When finishes one’s mandate another has to be trained. The councils are extremely important for the reduction of the resource’s deviations from the school meals. 10 years ago, school meals scandals were recurrent, and still occur, but today there are much less because of the social participation. The Center helps in supporting and bringing the discussion of issues that have to be improved, all the programs have to be continually improved, things are always changing and we have to be always enhancing. In this matter we have a fundamental role.
***Additional Commentary: Brazil today is in its adolescence phase: doesn’t behave as a developed country and neither as a poor one, receiver of international help. When we created the Center, we were asked if we didn’t think a contradiction Brazil, as a poor country, giving help to others. Is seeable that the sentiment of underdog is still rooted in the culture, there aren’t any discussions about that in Brazil, there aren’t any candidates to presidency or journalist that touch this issue in foreign policy. In USA there are debates only about foreign policy, and is rooted in the culture, the population is always discussing. But in Brazil this matter is thought as a loss of time, that we have a lot of internal problems to be solved and no time to think about others. It is an archaic thinking and in terms of development and strategy is a retrograde thinking because we lose a lot of opportunities that aren’t just commercial (they arise because countries feel well with Brazil and open their doors). The country that doesn’t invest in this is losing opportunities.
This is going to change when professionals and students of International Relations start discussing this. We want an open or close Brazil? In this sense, we have a strong work in discussing Brazil not internally, but the Brazil we want for the external scenario. Cooperation isn’t a loss of time; nobody cooperates with considerate amount of resources with disinterest. Everything is strategy. USA, UK, China, Russia and India are making strategies. Brazil is late in this issue. Its up to Brazil to start debating and discussing these themes more openly with people. All the newspapers have a single page talking about international politics, this is not appropriate. We need to develop ourselves, we want to influence, but we don’t participate in the debates. Brazil will only be able to influence when it participates within the debates in all themes and, for that, the country needs to be prepared.