RE: 10 Year Anniversary of the Right to Food Guidelines

Sacha Stevenson Section 27, South Africa


The latest South African National Health and Nutrition Survey (available here: found that 45% of the population is at risk of hunger with 26% of the population experiencing hunger. South Africa also experiences the twin burdens of significant numbers of people being either under- or overweight. The need for realization of the right to food is therefore dire.

The right to food in South Africa is constitutionally protected. Section 27 of the Constitution provides that everyone has a right of access to sufficient food and section 28 provides that every child has the right to adequate nutrition. Section 35 gives detained persons the right to adequate nutrition. The right to food/nutrition is, however, the only socio-economic right in the Constitution that has not been the subject of litigation. There have been a few cases making passing reference to the right to food but there has been no judicial explanation of the meaning of ’sufficient food’ or 'adequate nutrition’ and no exposition of the obligations on the state and private power that arise from the right to food.

In addition to the absence of an explanation as to the meaning of the right to food from the courts, there is no legislation dealing directly with the right to food and to adequate nutrition. In the place of legislation are a number of policies, none of which has been properly implemented and all of which have been developed behind the ‘closed doors’ of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Department of Social Development. The most recent policies, ostensibly launched in October 2013, are not yet available to the public.

The ‘lead agency’ for the right to food is the Department of Agriculture but this department has a focus on commercial agriculture and pays little attention to distribution issues or to small/subsistence farmers.

The problem of distribution of food, in South Africa as in other countries, is complicated by a very concentrated food market. There are, for example, three companies that have control over 60% of the bread and maize meal markets. Private power therefore plays an important role in the lack of realization of the right to food.

Theme 1: Right to Adequate Food - Past and Present 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? (I am answering only for South Africa)


•      Regulations to the Food and Cosmetic Products Act require the fortification of maize meal and bread flour (used for South Africa’s staple foods). Fortification has contributed to a reduction in stunting and micro-nutrient deficiencies (although enforcement of the regulations is insufficient and we suspect that not all millers are adding sufficient fortification premix to their food products).

•      The right to food was given serious attention in the National Development Plan 2030 (NDP), the strategic framework document developed at presidential level and adopted by government to guide South Africa’s planning and development. The full National Development Plan can be found here: and a document showing where the right to food was dealt with in the NDP is attached. The focus on the right to food in this document is promising.

•      The National School Nutrition Programme provides one meal each day for all children in the poorest 60% of schools. The meal provided has to be nutritionally balanced in line with regulations. The programme appears to be functioning well with only occasional problems.

•      Social welfare, including old age grants, disability grants and child care grants provide important safety nets to a large proportion of the population. The small amount of money provided to grant recipients is not, however, sufficient to ensure access to adequate nutrition given high food prices.


•      Inappropriate (both in terms of mandate and in terms of political weight) lead agency in the light of the inter-sectoral nature of the realization of the right to food.

•      Insufficient consultation and engagement with civil society and others in the development of policy.

•      Insufficient political will for the development of food legislation that would put in place enforceable obligations.

•      Insufficient regulation of the food market, leading to a highly concentrated food market, high prices and the exclusion of small players.

•      Very little social mobilization directly on the right to food leading to little political pressure for change.

Theme 2: The Right to Food Guidelines

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?

The Voluntary Guidelines are an invaluable tool to a state that seeks to realize the rights of its inhabitants to food. Unfortunately, South African policy-makers have not used the Guidelines as effectively as we would like. The Voluntary Guidelines are useful not only for policy makers, however, but also for activists who seek to propose change. SECTION27 has referred to the Guidelines in our thinking around the right and the policy/legislative change that we would like to campaign for and they have provided a helpful framework for our thinking.

Theme 3: The Future

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? (I am answering only for South Africa) Ways ahead:

•      Push for consultation and engagement with civil society and others in the development of policy.

•      Push for the development of food legislation (in line with the Voluntary Guidelines) that would put in place enforceable obligations on both private and public power and change the lead governmental agency on food to reflect its inter-sectoral nature.

•      Campaign for regulation of the food market (so as not to rely purely on competition law) and the identification and enforcement of private obligations.

•      Campaign for the enforcement of the regulations on fortification.

•      Social mobilization on the right to food.

Kind regards