Considering the Global South During COVID-19; The Case of Brazilian Favelas

Image Courtesy of Pxfuel.

Victoria Macdonald, Queens University.


Food insecurity has been an increasingly detrimental problem which faces many families worldwide, and remains one of the major threats which plague the city of São Paolo. Within the municipality, 900,000 households are located in slums, and 5.6% of the population earns less than $1.90 a day (Vezetiv Manfrinato, et al). Furthermore, over 20% of Brazil’s population reported hindered access to sufficient nutrients in 2016. This is despite a country-wide participatory approach called Food and Nutrition Security, which aims to develop public policies that guarantee food security (Vezetiv Manfrinato, et al).

             São Paolo is home to more than 11 million residents, 40% of whom reside in informal urban settlements in the fringes of the city. Historically, business models in São Paolo have produced food supply chains that fail to cover the “last mile” into favelas (Jones, et al). As a result, residents rely on local vendors or markets outside the favela to provide food. Since the emergence of COVID-19, São Paolo’s favelas have seen an increased prevalence of food insecurity as food supply chains have been hindered like never before (Vezetiv Manfrinato, et al). In essence, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how those who reside in São Paolo’s favelas are uniquely vulnerable to the complex interaction of socio-economic exclusion, an incomplete food supply chain, and a local government that provided uneven access to healthcare resources.

             Prior to COVID-19, acquiring food was still a daily struggle for São Paolo’s marginalized families. Due to the precarious supply chain, the quality of food stored in homes before the lockdown was insufficient. Only 2% of families in São Paolo’s favelas reported having fresh produce in their kitchen before lockdown (Vezetiv Manfrinato, et al). Moreover, these communities lack consistent electricity, thus, limiting the ability to plan meals without refrigeration. However, since the COVID-19 lockdown, schools in São Paolo have closed indefinitely, and this has deprived children of the free meals provided by district school boards. In addition, many parents have lost their jobs, severely constricting income as domestic food bills have increased (Christ). Ultimately, since COVID-19, nearly 89% of households in São Paolo’s favelas reported uncertainty about food acquisition, 69% stated that they were eating less than they should, and 46% reported being unable to access nutritious food (Vezetiv Manfrinato, et al).

Increased consumption of ultra-processed food and reduced physical activity have been proven to worsen comorbidities associated with COVID-19 (Jones, et al). These risk factors, combined with underfunded healthcare in São Paolo’s favelas, compose the complex interactions that leave families uniquely vulnerable to long-term health complications due to socio-economic exclusion amidst COVID-19.

             In 2016, Joao Doria, the mayor of São Paolo, publicly stated that “farinata food” could be a lucrative solution to resolving hunger in urban public schools. This “farinata food” is a conglomerate of leftover food that has since been dehydrated, ground into a powder, and synthesized to become bite-sized pellets resembling dog kibble. Government inability to address these dynamics meant that community measures in São Paolo’s favelas have been the largest aid during COVID-19. Groups such as, “civil society organizations, church groups, unions, universities, private companies, and individuals” have mobilized to reach the “last mile” into São Paolo’s favelas (Jones, et al). Furthermore, community kitchens across São Paolo have been stocked by local actors and farm cooperatives to provide meals for those most in need (Christ, et al).

             Yet, even the most extensive community efforts to curb food insecurity across São Paolo have been insufficient to provide adequate nutrients. Policy action is required.



Vezetiv Manfrinato, C., Marino, A., Ferreira Conde, V., Do Carmo Pinho Franco, M., Stedefeldt, E., & Yuki Tomita, L. (2020). High prevalence of food insecurity, the adverse impact of COVID-19 in Brazilian favela. MedRVix. doi:

Christ, P. (2020, May 01). São Paulo’s favelas are running out of food. These women are stepping in. Retrieved November 05, 2020, from

Jones, G., Amaral, A., & Nogueira, M. (2020, September 11). Mixing food with politics: How COVID-19 exposed inequalities in Brazil’s food supply chain: LSE Latin America and Caribbean. Retrieved November 05, 2020, from

Image Retrieved from Pxfuel.