Food production and waste in Diadema, Brazil

Posted on: February 12th, 2012 by and

“Brazil contains 26% of the world’s cultivable land… it is the second highest exporter of food, behind the United States… At the same time, approximately two thirds of its people go hungry”

(Oths et al., 2003, p. 306, as cited in Gutberlet, J., & Yates, J., 2011, p. 2113)

“…flows of waste [in Diadema] produce a myriad of environmental and health hazards – particularly at the margins of metropolitan areas, where social exclusion, waste accumulation, and environmental degradation combine”

(Gutberlet and Hunter, 2008, as cited in Yates and Gutberlet, 2011, p. 2113)

In Brazil, 237 of the total 5507 municipalities practice selective waste collection. Unsurprisingly, marginalized populations aren’t part of these few districts. Socially excluded groups, usually located at the peripheries of urban centres, suffer the most from environmental and health consequences of waste dumping.

Food production in Brazil is highly centralized and food security is dependent on financial wealth. There is little food production in densely populated areas. Groups who aren’t living in either rural areas, where fruits and vegetables are produced, or in economic cores, where fresh foods are sold, often find it difficult and expensive to access healthy food.

Diadema, located on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, is an example of a district with low access to fruits and vegetables due to its location between rural and highly urban areas. More than a quarter of the population in Diadema lives in low income settlements, called favelas. In addition to inadequate access to healthy foods, a growing number of controlled and uncontrolled landfills are an emerging health concern. In fact, in many places socially excluded groups are also physically excluded. Growing piles of garbage form physical divisions between the city and favelacommunities.

According to a study carried out in Diadema, nearly three-quarters of household waste is from food. Nutrients in organic waste are often “combined with hazardous wastes and dumped unproductively into unprotected land and water” (p. 2113). In this system, nutrients end up in piles of waste and are not returned to agricultural soil. As a result, Brazil is simultaneously experiencing declining soil nutrient levels in rural areas, and growing food waste in urban landfills.

In Diadema, the combination of “social exclusion, waste accumulation, and environmental degradation” (p. 2117) has aggravated environmental and health hazards. Read our next blog, Healing the Waste and Food Systems in Diadema, Brazil, to learn about initiatives aimed at reducing these hazards.

*This blog is based on:

Gutberlet, J., Yates, J (2011). Reclaiming and recirculating urban natures: integrated organic waste management in Diadema, Brazil. Environment and Planning, 43, 2109-2124

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