22 October 2012, Rome – A joint Committee on World Food Security (CFS) side event by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, OHCHR and FAO took place on 19 October 2012 at FAO Headquarters. Under the headline “The transformational power of the right to food: Countries pioneering right to food strategies”, the event focused on national-level experiences of setting up legal and institutional frameworks for the realization of the right to adequate food.
In 2009, the Committee on World Food Security pledged to “strive for a world free from hunger where countries implement the voluntary guidelines for the progressive realization of the right to adequate food”. Led by the two moderators Mr Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, and Mr Juan Carlos García y Cebolla, FAO Right to Food Team Leader, a strong panel of experts discussed concrete steps to strengthen national laws, policies and strategies to realize the right to food. Furthermore, panellists addressed challenges faced in the efforts to strengthen laws, policies and institutions to realize the right to food and discussed the added value of such laws, policies and institutions, which have been adopted or established.
“Food is not charity, food is a right”
The event also gave panellists the chance to share stories and lessons learned at national level from Brazil, Guatemala, India and Mozambique. Common for all was the emphasis of a human rights based approach to the right to food and the hard work at country level to implement this right for all. The importance of involving all stakeholders was highlighted by several of the panellists as a means to integrate the right to food in food and nutrition security policies.
Ms Maya Takagi, National Secretary for Food and Nutritional Security, Ministry for Social Development and Hunger Alleviation, Brazil, talked about the challenges ahead in the hunger and poverty reduction in Brazil and provided a clear overview of the progress made. She further elaborated on SISAN, a public system that brings in an inter-sectoral way, the government, state and municipal level together with civil society to coordinate policies that have the common goal of promoting food and nutrition security and decent access to food for the entire population from the standpoint of to the human rights approach, in particular, the human right to adequate food. But despite the creation a SISAN, the implementation of the Zero Hunger Programme in 2003, the creation of 17 million formal jobs from 2003-2011and the fact that the minimum wage has had a 66% real valuation since 2002, there are still 16 million people living in extreme poverty in Brazil. Thus, she further stressed that critical work has been done, but the fight against hunger is ongoing as “food is not charity, food is a right”, said Ms Maya Takagi.
Different countries, different approaches
Mr Luis Enrique Monterroso, Secretary of the Food and Nutritional Security Secretariat (SESAN), Guatemala, stressed that it is possible to implement the right to food, but acknowledged that it is a complex issue. He explained that in the case of Guatemala a sound legal framework have had high importance for the food security situation in the country and drew attention to the fact that the law on the right to food now has withstood three different governments.
He further explained that commissions in the Guatemalan congress can have a maximum of 7 members, and currently only three commissions that have more than 7 members. The commission on food and nutrition security has been granted the right to have 18 members to highlight the importance of food and nutrition security and to create awareness of the situation. Mr Monterroso also shared an example of one of Guatemala’s initiatives to create awareness of fighting hunger and poverty. The President and vice-president of Guatemala as well as 1500 government officials spent a couple of nights in one of one the country’s poorest communities to fully experience what poverty and hunger feels like.
Mr Biraj Patnaik, Principal Adviser, Office of Commissioners to the Supreme Court in the right to food case, India, explained that according to his experiences in India, legal actions are not enough in itself if they are not complemented by social movements or civil society campaigns. According to Mr Patnaik the right to food is particularly pressing as India is a net producer and exporter of food. With one of the world’s largest official stock piles of food, India is still home to one of the largest number of hungry people – in fact, 43 % of India’s children are malnourished. The supreme court has now universalized a school meal programme, which reaches 140 million children in India every day. Mr Patnaik explained that one of the main lessons learned is that it is not enough to fight for the right to food through the media, in the courts, on the streets, through lobbying and policy alone – all actions are needed in a coherent way to have the optimal effect.
Civil society engagement
Mr Edgar Cossa, Senior Policy Officer, Technical Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition (SETSAN), Mozambique, explained there are still challenges ahead in the fight against hunger, but that the right to food now is more visible in the political agenda. He described the process of promoting the right to food in Mozambique and all the work done to integrate the right to food as the main output in the action plan to reduce poverty in Mozambique from 2006 - 2009. Now the right to food is integrated as the main objective of social development in the government’s action plan for 2010 -2015. Mr Cossa further highlighted that engagement and participation of civil society play an important role for the process of realizing the right to food in Mozambique. He also pointed out the need to promote nutrition education to communities and the need to strengthen food security management and coordination with civil society participation.