by Victor Hugo Barboza

Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling


In 2002, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was elected President, after presenting in his campaign the fight against inequality through the Fome Zero Program as his main agenda. However, due to political, economic, and social differences within the Workers’ Party, a coalition who advocated a structurally simpler program than Fome Zero was formed. This group defended a direct income transfer program, in which the receiving family would not necessarily have to spend on food, but on the needs of any source. Because of this, an intra-party conflict happened in 2003 between the “Food Security” coalition, which was an advocate of the Fome Zero Program, and the “Basic Income” coalition, to determine which type of public policy should remain a priority in the fight against hunger in Brazil.

Within the PT there was a coalition called “Basic Income”, led by Cristovam Buarque, Eduardo Suplicy, and Patrus Ananias, which was against interventionist ideas, as they saw poverty as an individual problem, of training and education, having to be discussed in the context of various ministries and not only in the MESA. For this group, ending the social safety net or the minimum income would be a disregard for everything that was done and tested in previous years in the prefectures commanded by the Workers’ Party in some cities of São Paulo and by Bolsa Escola, Auxílio Gás, and Food bag. At that moment, the internal dispute between ministers and between ministries for the organization of a food security program is clear. The objective was to remove the centralization of the MESA Fome Zero Program and generate a command divided between ministries, each acting in an area with a common objective, which was to end hunger in Brazil.

From a structural point of view, the program was criticized for requiring a great effort to coordinate MESA with states and cities. The structural design of the program was complex to be completed in a short period, with two structures: an emergency and a specific. The complex design generated a lack of clarity in its operation, acting in the area of ​​job and income generation, social and universal welfare, an incentive to family agriculture, intensification of agrarian reform, and not even the obligation to make specific policies, such as donations of basic food baskets emergency services, food quality security, expansion of school lunches, education for consumption and food education, the formation of a food bank, urban agriculture, popular restaurants, among other policies.

The proposal of the Bolsa Familia Program coalition formed within the PT represented a structural change to the program and made it less entangled. It did not have the obligation to operate in a complex structural system. The objective of the Bolsa Família Program was simpler and, from the point of view of its supporters, more viable and easier for the population to accept since it was just the transfer of income so that the vulnerable population could spend on food or any kind of need. Also, Bolsa Família included variable benefits in its structure. The first benefit was the basic benefit of R$ 50.00 per person; the second was the variable benefit, in which families in situations of poverty or extreme poverty and which are composed of pregnant mothers, nursing mothers and children, and adolescents from 0 to 15 years old could receive a benefit of R$ 35.00 per month, being able to each family accumulates up to three benefits per month, reaching R$ 105.00; the third was the so-called youth variable benefit, intended for families in situations of poverty or extreme poverty and whose adolescents are between 16 and 17 years old. The benefit amount was R$ 35.00 per month and each family can accumulate up to two benefits, that is, R$ 70.00; and o was the benefit for overcoming extreme poverty, which was intended for families in extreme poverty. Each family could receive one benefit per month. The amount of the benefit varies to the present day due to the calculation made from the income per person of the family and the benefit already received in the Bolsa Família Program.

The Fome Zero Program since its creation had its own ministry, the Extraordinary Ministry of Social Security and Fight Against Hunger, commanded by José Gaziano da Silva, had a set of state-interventionist ideas, aiming at economic regulation and directing spending through a Food Card. This more interventionist idea was understandable in the program’s view, considering that it had as its main focus the reduction of social inequality, consequently raising economic growth and the increase of jobs and wages, making a correction of the so-called market failures. By making this intervention, the government intended to lower the price of food, generate a dynamic local economy and strengthen small producers through the purchase and sale of products from family farming (SILVA, 2004).

During the Administrative Reform carried out by the Lula government in 2003, it was decided to extinguish the Extraordinary Ministry of Food Security and Fight against Hunger, giving way to the Ministry of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger (MDS), which became responsible for national policies social development, food and nutrition security, social assistance and citizenship income in the country. MDS was responsible for coordinating, supervising, controlling, and evaluating the execution of income transfer programs, such as the recently created Bolsa Família (Tomazini, 2015). Thus, the creation of Bolsa Família as a public policy will refer to theorists Kingdon (2003), Hall (1993), Sabatier P. & Hank Jenkis Smith (1993), and Campbell (1998), as everything was analyzed as the way that elites operate within different public policy subsystems when there are an inter-ministerial dispute and an intra-party ideological dispute over what should be the most effective food security program for Brazil. It is also analyzed based on these theorists that the actors are not only linked to their interests, as they also learn over time and change political directions.

This theory found in the actors is clear when one sees the unconditional support of the political actors of the PT before winning the elections and the change of direction they took after Lula’s victory and throughout 2003. Another important point is that there is no paradigm shift with learning, that is, in the case of the political agenda the paradigm continued to end hunger and inequality in the Brazilian population, but new arrangements were made and associations that come from other pre-existing or old paradigms. In this way, these theories help to understand factors neglected in other studies, such as the production of knowledge of different coalitions about food security; the competence and quality of political and non-political experts; and the dominant beliefs and representations shared by different actors, both in the public and private spheres. The debate between the different groups of the party was of great importance for the strengthening of the party and to show that a party that is cohesive and with a more solid formation can work together and with divergent ideas. In this debate between coalitions, there are the main actors, as mentioned in this chapter, but behind these actors were the different groups that had their preferences and supported certain ideas.

More on

ANANIAS, Patrus. Direito à Alimentação, Assunto de Política. Disponível em:
BETTO, Frei. A Fome como Questão Política. In: BETTO, Frei (Org.). Fome Zero: textos fundamentais. Rio de Janeiro: Garamond, 2004.
HALL, P., 1993. Policy Paradigms, Social Learning and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain. Comparative Politics, 25(3), pp.275-296. DOI: 10.2307/422246
KINGDON, J., 2003. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. New York: Harper Collins
SABATIER, P. & JANKIS-SMITH, H., 1993. Policy Change and Learning: An advocacy coalition approach. Boulder: Westview.

Victor Hugo Barboza (2021) "From Fome Zero to Bolsa Famíla: intragovernmental disputes in the decision of a public policy". Brazilian Research and Studies Blog. ISSN 2701-4924. Vol. 2 Num. 1. available at:, accessed on: February 27, 2021.