Understanding food systems’ change: the making and the practicing of the school food reform in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil

Lozano, Camilo E.


The National School Feeding Programme (PNAE) is the largest and oldest food policy in Brazil. It provides access to food to about a quarter of the Brazilian population in 5,560 municipalities and 165,000 schools. In the last 25 years, PNAE has radically changed. It became a social right, was decentralised, formally linked civil society to its governance approach, and began to be embedded in the National System for Food and Nutrition Security (SISAN). This thesis explores such evolution of PNAE while focusing on how the city of Porto Alegre interlinks rural development goals with actions aiming to construct more sustainable food practices and promote the human right to adequate food.

It uses an embedded case study design for holistic exploration and suggests explanatory mechanisms to understand what, so far, have only been studied separately, namely policy making, policy implementing, and functioning of school food provision arrangements. As a result, an analytical framework is advanced, connecting these three levels. This framework brings to the foreground two up-to-date debates in relation to understanding the formation of more sustainable food systems: reflexive governance and the governance of practices. The first allows understanding of the processes of meaning making at federal (policy principles), city (municipal governing values) and family farmers’ collectivities (collective action beliefs) levels. The latter centres around the need for generating local knowledge, constructing enabling infrastructure, and building up competences so as to enable the organisation of provision arrangements in alternative ways.

These particular understandings and conceptualisations are carefully considered in the empirical chapters. Initially, it shows how the emergence and working of SISAN contributes to the formation of reflexive governance arrangements at federal level. In this context, it is argued that PNAE reflects efforts to insert right to food, food sovereignty, and sustainability principles, where localisation and intervening food practices are seen as routes to transform the school food service. Next, the thesis turns its attention to the city's responses to standardised governance procedures when it seeks to enact school food reforms. In addition to display the processes of meaning making at local levels, it studies and explains those governance occurrences in which emergent school food service practices are imagined, advanced, and in some cases normalised alongside the school food network, as to shape an entirely new school food system. In the last part, this work moves towards the supply side of the school meal programme in the city of Porto Alegre. Then, it analyses governance structures, processes and practices in five family farmers’ collective initiatives. The major outcome of this analysis is the exposition of different governance approaches from which FFs’ collective devices intervene in relevant supply practices (and their elements) while coordinating the making (or breaking) within them and between bundles or co-dependent provision practices.