2009 // Expert Panel on The Role of the Right to Food in Addressing the Global Food Crisis

Conceptual Framework

World Food Day 2009 will be dedicated to the theme: “Achieving Food Security in Times of Crisis”. As the title points out, the impact of the economic crisis on food security represents a matter of great concern. People in developing countries and especially in rural areas are those most affected by the wake of the surge in food and fuel prices (2007-2008). Although international prices have come down from their record heights in 2008, average food prices in May 2009 were still about 24 percent higher than they were in 2006 and the risk of volatility is also still present. Moreover, the same factors which caused the 2007-2008 soaring of food prices have not disappeared either. The current crisis and the risk of another surge in food prices require taking action to ensure food security, especially in rural areas where 70 percent of the world’s poor live and work.

The Expert Panel on “The Role of the Right to Food in Addressing the Global Food Crisis” is consistent with the World Food Week theme, “Achieving Food Security in Times of Crisis”. Its main objective, indeed, is to discuss how the Right to Food can concretely contribute to achieve food security during the global food and financial crisis.

The Comprehensive Framework for Action, developed by the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis in July 2008, sets a twin-track approach to meet urgent hunger and humanitarian needs. To effectively tackle the present crisis the right to food should be added as a “third track”, as acknowledged by the UN Secretary-General in his closing speech at the High-Level Meeting on Food Security held in Madrid this year. Hence, the right to food emerges as a crucial component of the diagnosis, design, implementation and monitoring of the response to the present food crisis. An approach based on the right to food addresses the root causes of hunger showing that food insecurity has more to do with access to food than with production; measures meant to boost production may eventually result in large-scale agricultural exploitation, providing markets not accessible to small-holders, who are those most critically affected by the crisis.

For the first time, in 2008 a world food crisis was recognized as a human rights issue. The reasons are twofold. On the one hand, the crisis disproportionately affects people who are already vulnerable, in particular those who spend large proportions of their income on purchasing food or those who lose their livelihoods as jobs and income opportunities vanish due to the economic and financial crisis. On the other hand, it is widely recognized that, regarding the response to the crisis, business as usual will not work. Traditional approaches dealt with the technical dimensions of food security work in both emergency and development contexts. They need to be complemented with an additional dimension that focuses on the promotion of the right to adequate food and good governance.

Good food security governance is essential to eradicate hunger. At government level this means that all different line ministries or commissions need to combine their complementary skills and efforts to design and implement effective integrated cross-sectoral initiatives. At local level this means that households, families, farmers’ organizations, agri-business and other actors need to be empowered to participate in the policy-making process, not only at national level but also at regional, village and even family level. Such coordination will undoubtedly pose a real challenge.

Food security is a function not only of production and market access, but also of the environment created by economic and political institutions at all levels. These institutions can facilitate or obstruct people's access to essential livelihood assets. Understanding governance structures and institutional contexts is crucial for addressing food security as a policy issue that cuts across several sectors and has multiple dimensions. It is now well recognized that the institutional set-up and the processes that allow interactions among interested stakeholders are critical factors for success or failure when formulating, implementing and monitoring policies.

Countries that started implementing the right to food, as for example Brazil, have in the present food crisis demonstrated the value of participatory coordination mechanisms such as the Food and Nutritional Security Council, of targeted safety nets such as the “Bolsa Familia”, of transparent and accountable programmes such as the school feeding programme and of empowered citizens.

Because of its close link to the economic crisis, the global food crisis and the commitment to address its structural causes should continue to be at the top of the international political agenda. With the right to food and good governance, past mistakes will not be repeated and food systems, along with social, economic and political systems will be set up at all levels that have as overarching objective the promotion of humanity’s well-being and the dignity of each human being.