Lula da Silva’s Brazilian charisma
“The poor now are being treated like citizens and we govern for all Brazilians, not just one third of the people,” he said.
Lula da Silva, who was president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010 shares this year’s $250,000 award with John Agyekum Kufuor, president of Ghana from 2001 to 2009.
According to the World Food Prize, Lula da Silva made it clear, even before he took office as president of Brazil, that fighting hunger and poverty would be a top priority of his government. More than 10 government ministries were focused on the expansive Zero Hunger programs, which provided greater access to food, strengthened family farms and rural incomes, increased enrollment of primary school children, and empowered the poor.
Over the eight years of his administration, Brazil achieved dramatic reductions in hunger and extreme poverty. Brazil cut hunger in half (93% of children and 82% of adults eating three meals a day) and also reduced the percentage of Brazilians living in extreme poverty from 12% in 2003 to 4.8% in 2009.
Lula da Silva, who opened the presidential palace to the homeless and indigenous people as well as bankers and heads of state, said that the country’s growing middle class and shrinking poverty are driving its economy. Brazil was the last nation affected by the international banking crisis of 2008 and the first to recover, he said.
“If you give a poor family $100, they spend it. If you give a rich family $1 million, they put it in the bank,” he said.
“There’s nothing easier, there’s nothing cheaper than taking care of the poor. What is really difficult is to take care of the rich,” he joked.
Although he’s an advocate of the poor, Lula da Silva doesn’t seem to be a divisive leader. He said he worked with all parts of the Brazilian economy, including lenders and business leaders.
“When I took office there was a group of people from agribusiness saying family farms are useless and the family farmers were saying agribusiness is the Devil. Then I said Brazil needed both kinds of agriculture and that is a exactly what happened.”
The government provided more credit for family farms and set up programs to encourage schools to buy food locally.
Lula da Silva said that for an economy to prosper, it has to produce tangible goods, not just swaps and derivatives in the banking sector.
In Brazil, the poor have helped drive a manufacturing economy. The government also started infrastructure projects, including bringing electricity to poor areas.
That, along with food assistance and income transfer programs, has created demand for refrigerators, appliances and electronic purchases.
Lula da Silva said the press in Brazil has criticized such government spending, but he likes to cite the grandmother who said she used to buy one pencil and split it in two for her two grandsons for school.