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Josué de Castro

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Doctor, activist and author


Josué de Castro

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 27/09/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

Josué Apolônio de Castro was born in Recife on 5 September 1908,the only child of Manoel Apolônio de Castro, a land owner in Cabaceiras, Paraíba, and Josepha Carneiro de Castro, known as “Dona Moça”.

During his work as a physician in a large factory, he found out that the disease that affected the majority of workers, hispatients, was hunger. From this practice, he wrote Condições de vida das classes operárias do Recife (Working Class Living Standards in Recife) in 1932, where he underscored the severity of its effects. Pioneering, this research established the relationship between worker productivity and alimentation for the first time.


That same year, he became Associate Professor in Physiology at the Recife Faculty of Medicine, defending his thesis O problema fisiológico da alimentação no Brasil (The Physiological Nourishment Problem in Brazil).He went to high school in Recife and studied medicine in Bahia for three years, graduating from the National Faculty of the University of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, in 1929, at only 21 years of age.

Also in 1929, he travelled to Mexico and then to the United States, where he did a four-month internship at Columbia University and at the New York Medical Centre.

Returning to Recife in the early 1930s, he began practicing as a doctor, later turning to the field of nutrition and, consequently, becoming a researcher in hunger.

With revolutionary ideas for the time, including the one of sustainable development, he made the fight against hunger his personal objective.

As a teacher, his professional life was very focused on Human Geography and Anthropology, subjects he taught in Recife and Rio de Janeiro between 1933 and 1964.

In 1933, he was one of the creators and founders of the Recife Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences, where he taught Human Geography.

In 1935, he wrote the short story O ciclo do caranguejo (The Crab Cycle), about the life of a family living near the mangroves on the banks of the Capibaribe Riverin Recife. Having lived for many years in an old colonial house near the river, Josué de Castro had realised early on the similarities between the inhabitants of the banks of the Capibaribe and crabs, both covered in mud and hungry. Men collected crabs to survive and crabs thrived on the waste of man.

The same year, he became Chair Professor of Anthropology at the University of the Federal District (at the time Rio de Janeiro), and from 1936 to 1955 he served as clinical doctor and specialist in nutritional diseases in Rio de Janeiro.

From 1940 until 1964, he taught Human Geography as Chair Professor at the National Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro.

Author of several books, some translated into 25 languages, he published whatwould be his best known bookin 1946:Geografia da fome(The Geography of Hunger), which became an international reference at the time in the subject and one of the greatest studies into the causes of poverty in Brazil and world wide .

In the 1950s, he held the posts of chairman of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Governmental Committee of the Campaign to Fight Hunger, both belonging to the United Nations (UN), in addition to the presidency of the World Association Against Hunger (ASCOFAM).

In 1962, he was appointed Head Ambassador of the Delegation of Brazil to the UN in Geneva, a position he held until 1964, when his political rights were revoked for ten years after the military coup of 31March.

He received numerous awards, including the José Veríssimo (1946), awarded by the Brazilian Academy of Letters, the Roosevelt from the Academy of Political Sciences of the United States for the book The Geography of Hunger (1952), the International Peace Prize (1954) forhis works and actions to combat hunger in the world, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963.

Investigated by the Brazilian government’s Department of Political and Social Order (DOPS) from the 1940s, he was characterised as subversive. His fight against hunger and need for agrarian reformwere uncomfortable issues for the conservatives who promoted the coup, leading to his impeachment.

He went into exile in Paris, but despite his great activity, exile never suited him. His sadness at not being able to return to his country was constant and apparent.

He is the author of numerous works, among which can be highlighted: Condições de vida das classes operárias do Recife (Working Class Living Standards in Recife)(1932), O problema fisiológico da alimentação no Brasil (The Physiological Nourishment Problem in Brazil)–Monograph (Chair Professor in Physiology) – Recife Faculty of Medicine (1932); O ciclo do caranguejo (The Crab Cycle) (1935), Alimentação e raça (Food and Race) (1936); A alimentação brasileira à luz da Geografia Humana (Brazilian Feeding Habits According to Human Geography) (1937), Documentário do Nordeste (Northeast Documentary) (1937), Geografia da Fome (The Geography of Hunger)(1946); Fatores de localização da cidade do Recife (Factors for the Site Location of the City of Recife) (1948), Geopolítica da Fome (The Geopolitics of Hunger) (1951), A cidade do Recife: ensaio de Geografia Urbana ( The City of Recife: essay on Urban Geography) (1954); Ensaios de Geografia Humana (Essays on Human Geography) (1957); O livro negro da fome (The Black Book of Hunger) (1960); Sete palmos de terra e um caixão (Six Feet Under and a Coffin) (1965), Homens e caranguejos (Of Men and Crabs) (1967);A explosão demográfica e a fome no mundo (Demographic Explosion and Hunger in the World) (1968); Estratégia do desenvolvimento (The Strategy of Development) (1971).

He died in Paris, still in exile, at age of 65 on 24 September 1973. He was buried at St John the Baptist cemetery in Rio de Janeiro.

Recife, 18 de abril de 2005.
(Atualizado em 28 de agosto de 2009).

Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2012.

sources consulted

JOSUÉ de Castro, por um mundo sem fome. Disponível em:  <>. Acesso em: 14 abr. 2005.


JOSUÉ  de Castro [Foto neste texto]. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 1º set. 2011.


MOURA, Abdias de. Josué de Castro: geografia da fome. In: COSTA SOBRINHO, Pedro Vicente; PATRIOTA NETO, Nelson Ferreira (Org.). Vozes do Nordeste. Natal: Editora da UFRN, 2001. p. 125-138.

how to quote this text

Fuente: GASPAR, Lúcia. Josué de Castro. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponible en:<>. Acceso en: día mes año. Ej.: 6 ago. 2009.