RE: 10 Year Anniversary of the Right to Food Guidelines

Alfonso Apicella Caritas Internationalis, Holy See

The future of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Food: a perspective from Caritas

Caritas Internationalis (CI), a Confederation of 164 Catholic relief, social and development organisations in the world, welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this consultation in view of the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Food. Caritas members work at the grassroots level in all continents, side by side with the poor to defend their human rights and ensure sustainable livelihood and empowerment,. A large number of Caritas projects are carried out in developing countries to foster sustainable agriculture and agroecology, solidarity economy, adaptation to climate change and resilience to shocks, healthy nutrition and sustainable consumption. CI can thus credibly present the views of the people who are most vulnerable to food insecurity.

One of the major pillars of the CI global campaign “One Human Family, Food for All” is the implementation of the Right to Food Guidelines in countries where Caritas operates. CI has begun a program of dissemination of the Guidelines through regional workshops, which will continue until fall 2014, with a view to producing a comprehensive report by May 2015. A substantial contribution, drawing on the assessment made by our national members, is foreseen for the CFS 41st session. CI wants to offer a first reaction, based on the first of such regional workshops, held in Europe.

Theme 1:  What have been some of the most important achievements and some of the major shortcomings in the struggle for the right to adequate food during the past decades on the global, regional and local level?

From a sheer quantitative standpoint, a significant reduction of the number of hungry people has been achieved in some countries. However, this has come at the price of creating even more inequality between countries.

There is a greater awareness and visibility of the Right to Food and of the persisting problems of food insecurity and hunger, thanks to the emergence of social movements, the work of international experts such as the UN Special Rapporteurs, and institutions like the reformed CFS. International conferences like “Rio+20” and, more significantly, the Post-2015 process have contributed to bringing back the human right to adequate food to the core of political concerns about development. Communications and media have helped in the creation of a new public conscience about the value of food. Last but not least, the last Pontiffs - in particular Pope Francis with his repeated calls against food waste – have warned against the scandal of hunger today and defended a more equitable distribution of food and of the resources to produce it.       

On the other hand, among the structural causes of hunger, public policies at all levels have failed to foster equality in the conditions for accessing food and the resources needed to produce it. For example, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, Economic Partnership Agreements, but also the global WTO regime has privileged trade liberalisation to the detriment of the Right to Food of the poorest. Therefore, we still lament an alarming lack of policy coherence.

Theme 2: How have the Right to Food Guidelines contributed to the promotion and protection of the right to adequate food over the last ten years? What are some of the key achievements and the main limitations of the Guidelines and their implementation? 

Before CI started disseminating the VGRtF, they were not really known to the Caritas network. We hope it will be possible to assess their beneficial impact for countries in the course of our evaluation work.

However, what can be said at this initial stage is that the VGRtF are a valuable monitoring tool, allowing for flexibility and adaptability in different national contexts. They can not only help  measure results, but also to monitor processes where policies or budget allocations exist but are not implemented in a timely or efficient way.  

As they stand, the VGRtF are not always accessible and understandable by non-specialised readers. They require significant work in adapting them into comprehensible language by civil society organisations like Caritas if they are be communicated to field officers and communities (farmers’ federations, advocates, cooperatives, etc). Vulnerable individuals find themselves at great disadvantage not only due to their deprivation, but also because they do not know about their rights. Disseminating the VGRtF is therefore a big challenge for Caritas, but at the same time an opportunity to help empower vulnerable people. In sum, the VGRtF can and should be communicated differently, according to their target audience, in order to achieve the purpose they were developed for and ultimately a transformation in peoples lives.

A major shortcoming is the absence of a reporting mechanism on the VGRtF, which seriously limits their potential impact. The emphasis of them being “Voluntary” does not encourage governments to follow them in their policy-making (although their implementation could be very beneficial, also in economic terms) or helps to create a sense of accountability. Accountability should first and foremost apply to the governments’ choices about the inclusion and effective consultation of all stakeholders and social groups, then towards the international community: Food, the conditions of access to the resources needed to produce it, and the way decisions affecting those conditions are taken, are at the very core of the social, political and cultural life of all human societies. This multi-dimensional nature of food should be highlighted and emphasized by the revised Guidelines.

Theme 3: What are the major challenges and ways ahead for the full realization of the right to adequate food at the local, national, regional and global levels?

There is still a worrying lack of coherence between policies and human rights priorities: all policies related to food security (agriculture, trade, economy, environment and climate etc.) should have as their first objective the right to food, and not economic profit. Economic costs should be borne - by governments, the private sector and other responsible actors – for the sake of sustainability and in solidarity with the poor. 

Lack of accountability makes the right to food ineffective. Governments should give account of their policies to stakeholders and social groups; this should be complemented by the establishment of independent redress mechanisms where they do not exist. 

At international level, there should a monitoring mechanism on the implementation of the VGRtF, whereby governments should regularly report about the measures they have adopted. Such a mechanism should be based on cooperation between the CFS and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.   

In the spirit of review and monitoring, we are inviting governments and all stakeholders to hold a Special Session on the Right to Food at the UN General Assembly 2016, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the ICESCR.