A World without Poverty: a view from Brazil

A World without Poverty: a view from Brazil

World without Poverty is an initiative that aims to share Brazil’s learnings on reducing poverty with other developing countries and domestically.[1] In November 2014 a conference was held in Brasília to provide an opportunity to reflect on the country`s experience of social policies and poverty eradication, and reflect on the relevance of the Brazilian case for other countries.

Brazil’s progress on poverty

At the meeting, Teresa Campello who heads the Ministry of Social Development and Fight against Hunger summarised Brazil’s successes in reducing poverty. Brazil has more than halved the number of people considered in extreme poverty (based on having enough income to cover basic food needs) from 25.5 million in 2001 to 10.5 million people in 2013.[2] The Minister was confident that this was a solid trend, despite an increase of around 400,000 people between 2012 and 2013. This form of extreme poverty differs from the international poverty line of $1.25 a day, but as the chart shows both have fallen in recent years.

Brazil halved extreme poverty between 2001 and 2013

World without Poverty_Dec 2014

People living in extreme poverty according to the international poverty line ($1.25) and Brazil’s national data. Source: World Bank’s World Development Indicators; Institue of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

Inequality in Brazil has also declined, as a decrease in the Gini index (a widely used measure of inequality) has demonstrated . While Brazil remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, the Gini coefficient fell from 59.0 to 52.7 between 1999 and 2012.[3]

The role of the Bolsa Família programme

The Minister argued that the Bolsa Família cash transfer programme plays an important role in reducing extreme poverty in Brazil.  Established in 2003 to complement other social programmes, it transfers funds directly to families living below R$77 (regarded as extremely poor) and R$154 (regarded as poor), subject to meeting certain conditions regarding health checks and school attendance for children.[4] The programme is a founding component of a model of development that puts social inclusion at the core of the national agenda.

Brazil without Misery

In 2011, Brazil launched the three-pillared Brasil sem Miséria plan (Brazil without Misery) to eradicate extreme poverty by 2014. Bolsa Família is a component of the income pillar, along with other targeted transfers. The other two pillars are access to services (such as housing, education and health) and productive inclusion, which enhances capacities and opportunities for people in poverty to earn their own income, in both cities and rural areas.

The Brasil sem Miséria beneficiaries are selected through cadastro único, the country’s single registry that records all households that qualify to receive support.[5] Being registered does not guarantee access to benefits, but the register provides an essential map of needs that other institutions can use to implement social policies more effectively.

Learnings for other countries

Brazil’s experience can be useful to other countries committed to end poverty, but which particular elements are relevant is important. They vary according to national priorities and conditions.

Countries where poverty is still  prevalent may focus on measures that improve the situation in the short term, such as Bolsa Família. Countries where income poverty is already falling may want to look at more comprehensive approaches that include programmes for income generation and improving access to public services, such as the Brasil sem Miséria.

Countries could also learn from the current challenges that Brazil faces in order to better plan their own approach. The World without Poverty panellists suggested that further steps for Brazil should include improvements to the labour market, public services and public management, and should foster social participation.

Other countries may have similar challenges as well as good solutions to share. Expanding opportunities for knowledge sharing and harnessing development cooperation partnerships could accelerate the adoption of adequate solutions to end poverty.


[1] The initiative is promoted by the Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA), Secretariat of Strategic Affairs of the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil, the Ministry of Social Development and Fight against Hunger, the International Policy Center for Inclusive Growth, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank.

[2] Brazil uses different administrative poverty lines, but does not have an official one. The line referred in text is calculated estimating the value of a basic food basket covering minimum calories requirements per person, as established by the FAO and WHO. Values vary by region in Brazil. IPEA data: http://www.ipeadata.gov.br/

[3] World Development Indicators: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI. The Gini coefficient measures the extent to which income distribution between individuals or groups differs from a perfectly equal distribution. The higher the index, more unequal is the distribution; the lower the index, more equal is the distribution. A value of 100 indicates a perfectly unequal distribution, a value of zero a perfectly equal distribution.

[4] R$77 are about US$30 and R$154 about US$59 at current exchange rates.

[5] Households whose members earn less than half the minimum salary per capita.