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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Renew the commitment: Ten-Year Retrospective on the Right to Food Guidelines

Santosh Kumar Mishra
Santosh Kumar MishraPopulation Education Resource Centre (PERC), Department of Continuing and Adult Education and Extension Work, S. N. D. T. Women's University, Mumbai, IndiaIndia

1. Were the first ten years of implementation of the Right to Food Guidelines a success? Or were you disappointed? Is the glass half full or have empty?

The food industry has made highly visible pledges to curtail children's food marketing, sell fewer unhealthy products in schools, and label foods in responsible ways. Ceding regulation to industry carries opportunities but is highly risky. In some industries (e.g., tobacco), self-regulation has been an abject failure, but in others (e.g., forestry and marine fisheries), it has been more successful.

2. Looking at the last ten years, what are success stories of the progressive realization of the right to food? And what are the biggest challenges?

  • (a) Success stories of the progressive realization of the right to food: I find following success story on right to food from Brazil:

Four out of ten Brazilian Indians live in extreme poverty, and more than half of indigenous children are anemic. The goal of the Joint Programme (entitled “MDGs beyond averages: Promoting Food Security and Nutrition for Indigenous Children in Brazil”) was to support the government in its efforts to improve the food security and nutritional status of indigenous children in the regions of Dourados and Alto Rio Solimões. The programme focused on two objectives:

  • Promoting access to public programmes and services, with the aim of reducing cases of malnutrition and the infant mortality rate; and
  • Promoting the sustainability of production and access to food by strengthening local productive systems that rely on and respect the food and economic culture of the target communities.

The initiatives focused on children; however, emphasis was also placed on women, since child malnutrition can only be addressed effectively if the mother-child unit is taken into account. All initiatives relied on full participation from the communities and public agents. Crosscutting actions were undertaken to empower indigenous communities, leaders and organizations and to strengthen public capacities. Some of the achievements of the Programme were:

  • Activities with the potential to become pilot programmes were carried out to support breastfeeding and supplementary feeding.
  • Knowledge was shared among indigenous and non-indigenous peoples regarding health rights and culture.
  • The nutrition surveillance system was strengthened.
  1. Challenges: Soaring world food prices, the increasing competition of biofuel production with food production, and the growing awareness of the impacts of climate change have put the world food problem squarely back on the global development agenda. This is therefore a rare opportunity to mobilize human rights, and the right to adequate food in particular, as the guiding framework for policies and action. Nonetheless political leadership all over the world is still locked in patterns of action that have led to persistent and growing world hunger, with too much emphasis on technological fixes, on “breadbasket” areas to feed the poor, and treating food as a commodity little different from other traded commodities.

3. How can the Right to Food Guidelines be used better to accelerate the realization of the right to food? What would be the role of the Committee on World Food Security?

National governments, as appropriate and in consultation with relevant stakeholders and pursuant to their national laws, should consider adopting a national human-rights based strategy for the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security as part of an overarching national development strategy, including poverty reduction strategies, where they exist. The elaboration of these strategies should begin with a careful assessment of:

  • existing national legislation, policy and administrative measures;
  • current programmes;
  • existing constraints; and
  • availability of existing resources.

Furthermore, the national governments should formulate the measures necessary to remedy any weakness, and propose an agenda for change and the means for its implementation and evaluation. These strategies could include objectives, targets, benchmarks and time frames; and actions to formulate policies, identify and mobilize resources, define institutional mechanisms, allocate responsibilities, coordinate the activities of different actors, and provide for monitoring mechanisms. As appropriate, such strategies could address all aspects of the food system, including the production, processing, distribution, marketing and consumption of safe food. They could also address access to resources and to markets as well as parallel measures in other fields. These strategies should, in particular, address the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, as well as special situations such as natural disasters and emergencies.

4. We are often criticized for doing advocacy only: Where is the evidence that human rights based approach leads to better outcomes? What’s your answer to this challenging question?

Food security is a part of the human right obligations by the states. From this angle, it means for instance the adoption of a national strategy to ensure food and nutrition security for all, without any discrimination, and the formulation of policies and corresponding benchmarks. It should also identify the resources available to meet the objectives and the most cost-effective way of using them.

The right to food offers a coherent framework with which to address critical dimensions in the fight against hunger. It emphasizes human rights principles such as participation, non-discrimination, transparency and empowerment, and provides mechanisms for increased accountability and the rule of law. It is States’ primary obligation, individually and through international co-operation, to take necessary measures to meet the vital food needs of their people, especially of vulnerable groups and households. In this respect, a peaceful, stable and enabling political, social and economic environment at national and international levels is fundamental for states to ensure adequate priority for food security and poverty eradication.

Food is globally mostly produced by private producers and delivered in market economy. States don´t have any obligation to deliver food free of charge, but it must create a judicial and policy environment that enables right to adequate food without any discrimination and using all available resources. The land rights itself are a civil law issue, but equal access to land of men and women and all minorities is a human rights affair.

Food security is a complex issue and cannot be tackled without a holistic approach. Several policies such as trade, agriculture, environment and energy have an influence on food security, and this underlines the importance of policy coherence: These policies should be in compliance and support the objectives of development policy or at least not work against it.

Dr. Santosh Kumar Mishra (Ph. D.), Technical Assistant, Population Education Resource Centre (PERC), Department of Continuing and Adult Education and Extension Work, S. N. D. T. Women's University, Patkar Hall Building, First Floor, Room. No.: 03, 1, Nathibai Thackerey Road, Mumbai - 400020, Maharashtra, India ( Email:   Tel.: +91-022-22066892 (O) +91–022–28090363 (R) +09224380445 (M)