Making rights a reality
The primary responsibility for ensuring the right to adequate food and the fundamental right to freedom from hunger rests with national governments. It is generally acknowledged that hunger is both a violation of human dignity and an obstacle to social, political and economic progress, and a number of countries have enshrined the right to food in their constitutions. Yet to date no country has adopted national legislation to specifically realize this right.
respect, protect, fulfil
Food safety is
To protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade, FAO and the World Health Organization established the Codex Alimentarius Commission in 1962. The commission is an intergovernmental body, currently comprising 165 member states, that prepares international food standards and other recommendations to promote food quality and safety. The Codex Alimentarius, or food code, has become the global reference point for consumers, food producers and processors, national food control agencies and the international food trade. It offers a framework for states to use in establishing national food control legislation and systems to protect the rights of consumers to safe and fairly marketed foods.
Enabling people to
meet their needs
Agricultural development is not only the key to increasing food availability, but as a major employer in most developing countries, it helps to bring rural people out of poverty. But the right to food comprises more than just food production. Markets full of food are useless if people do not have access to them. Efficient national food supply systems must be accompanied by appropriate marketing facilities, equitable rural development policies and adequate opportunities to produce food or earn enough money to buy it. Development of the transportation and communications infrastructures is essential.
"Facilitating enjoyment of the right to food does not necessarily mean direct state intervention in all aspects of the food system," adds Ms Vidar. "But the state can take steps to ensure that private markets are able to perform well."
There are a number of measures governments can take to promote private food markets without resorting to inefficient and costly price controls and direct food assistance. By reducing barriers to obtaining trade licences, they can make it cheaper and easier for companies to enter the market. They can also encourage trade and keep food prices affordable by reducing value-added taxes on food commodities and by enacting legislation prohibiting monopolies. Public access to price data, through radio broadcasts or other means, can also be an effective way to ensure that small traders have the information they need to enter the food business. FAO has supported a number of publicly operated food price information systems in developing countries to make this data more readily available.
Providing for the
vulnerable in emergencies
Violations of the
right to food
It is in situations of crisis such as civil conflict or natural disasters that the right to food is most likely to be violated. Violations include denial of access to humanitarian food aid or the deliberate starvation of civilians through the intentional destruction of food or the tools of agriculture -- equipment, crops, livestock and water supplies. A state's failure to call for adequate and timely international assistance during an emergency may also be a violation of the obligation to fulfil the right to food.
Scarcity can also breed conflict, however, with the struggle for control over or access to natural resources evolving into violence. These conflicts, in turn, destroy productive capacities and damage the environment, making it difficult for people to sustain their livelihoods and achieve food security.
Knowledge is power in
the fight against hunger
FAO also provides technical assistance to help governments improve their national food security monitoring systems. By facilitating needs assessment and the planning of timely interventions to impending food emergencies, the information these systems provide is essential to ensuring the right to adequate food for all (For more about FAO and food emergencies, click here).
The 'rights' path
A rights-based approach to food security entails ensuring non-discrimination, democratic participation, transparency and accountability and, according to Ms Vidar, law is the ideal tool for allocating responsibility to the appropriate organ and establishing processes by which these principles can be upheld. This is especially important in dealing with a cross-sectoral, multidimensional issue like food security, she notes.
"Rights-based activities seem an inevitable path for FAO to follow in the long run," says Ms Vidar. "But specific initiatives, such as pilot work on framework legislation or effectively integrating the right to food in our development and emergency work, might require increased support from the donor community."