The Right to Food

FAO's role in the fulfilment of the Right to Food

Despite the substantial progress made in reducing hunger and undernutrition in the past 25 years, malnutrition in all its forms currently affects one in three people worldwide, and more than 820 million people experience hunger on a daily basis.

The realization of the right to adequate food is not merely a promise to be met through charity. It is a human right of every woman, man and child that is to be fulfilled through appropriate actions by governments and non-state actors. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development prioritizes scaled up, transformational action to eradicate poverty and end hunger and all forms of malnutrition, recognizing that permanent eradication of hunger and the realization of the right to adequate food for all are achievable goals.

But business as usual will not be good enough to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, despite recent advancements, on the current trajectory under a “business-as-usual” scenario, SDG 2 will not be achieved and large segments of the world’s population will remain undernourished by 2030 and even by 2050.

The right to adequate food can contribute to the transformational change by creating synergies within the existing policy environment, in each context, to enhance coherence across relevant sectors. For example, by sharpening the focus of national policy, legal and programme frameworks on the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition (SDG2), and contributing also to the elimination of extreme poverty and the reduction of overall poverty (SDG1), and to ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls (SDG5).

A long way

Over the years, important advances have been made at various levels. Globally, the right to adequate food has been a legally binding human right in international law for more than 35 years while since then additional legal guarantees have been afforded to specific groups, such as women, children and persons living with disabilities.

In 2004, FAO Member Nations adopted by consensus the Voluntary guidelines to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security (Right to Food Guidelines), which provide practical guidance on ways to implement the right to adequate food in a wide range of policy and programme areas.

More recently, whether as a result of consensual international documents with the fulfilment of the right to food as an objective, such as the Voluntary guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security, or as a goal reiterated by the United Nations Secretary-General in light of the Zero Hunger Challenge, fulfilment of the right to food is increasingly becoming a priority on the international agenda. 

From principles to practice

FAO plays an increasingly decisive role in the advancement of the right to adequate food at global, regional and national levels. FAO also develops methodologies and analytical tools for different stakeholders. A variety of actors at country, regional and headquarters levels are carrying out a range of actions related to promoting the right to food. FAO work on the right to food focuses on supporting countries and stakeholders in the:

Through these seven aforementioned areas, FAO proactively contributes to the increasing number of countries that have included the right to adequate food in their national constitutions, laws, strategies, policies and programmes that aim to fulfil the right to adequate food for all.

How right to food links to FAO work in support of the SDGs

The work on the right to food underpins a cross-cutting approach that contributes to and has an impact on the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition (SDG2). In particular, the right to food strengthens the enabling environment towards a more rapid reduction in hunger and malnutrition:

Better policy design: governments focus on the most vulnerable people, emphasize participation of multiple stakeholders and transparent processes and contribute to achieving the right to adequate food. Countries are supported to legally protect the right to adequate food through constitutional provisions, national legislation and regulations, and to strengthen their policy and programme frameworks to make it happen.

Increased investments: the effectiveness and efficiency of public expenditure on food and nutrition security is improved due to increased capacity of government representatives, parliamentarians and civil society in budget analysis and expenditure tracking.

Improved governance: enhanced stakeholder dialogue and coordination mechanisms. Empowered civil society members hold government officials to account to improve the design and implementation of food and nutrition security action.

Evidence-based support: periodic assessments of human rights standards and principles, policies, programmes and laws are carried out to improve their impact on food-insecure and malnourished people and address the underlying causes of hunger.

Right to Food in FAO

The FAO Right to Food team works on the implementation of the human right to adequate food through the Right to Food Guidelines. It develops methods and instruments to assist stakeholders in the implementation of the right to food, informs and educates to raise awareness and understanding by rights holders, duty bearers, civil society and the general public about the right to food and supports initial national implementation of the right to food and the Guidelines.

The team works in close collaboration with the FAO Legal Office, assisting FAO member states in the development of legislation that contributes to the reduction of hunger and elimination of poverty and the Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development Division, responsible for developing the tools, the methodologies and long-term vision that will allow FAO to proactively engage in partnerships, advocate its messages and develop capacities in all areas comprised in the FAO Strategic Objectives.

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