15.01.2013

Investment Days discuss the relevance of the right to food to investment in agriculture and rural development

What is the relationship between the right to food and investment in agriculture and rural development? How can human rights provide tools for investment plans and projects? These issues were discussed during a parallel session entitled “The Right to Food: How is it relevant to investment in agriculture and rural development?” organized within Investment Days on 18 December 2012.  Investment Days are a yearly two-day retreat that bring together colleagues of the FAO’s Investment Centre (TCI), including employees of such related institutions as the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Bank to share knowledge and experiences.

Organized by officers from the Agricultural Economics Development Division (ESA) and TCI, the hour-and-a-half long session had the overall objective of exploring the interrelationship between the right to food and investment in agriculture and rural development (ARD), and how the two complement and reinforce each other. In their opening remarks, the organizers presented the work of TCI in social analysis to understand the complexities of social diversity, gender and the various dimensions of poverty as an entry point for the cooperation that gave birth to the session. The whole session was placed within recent developments such as those relating to Rio+20, the Global Strategic Framework on Food Security, and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure.

The panel was composed of distinguished speakers from the UN, academia, civil society and a state.

In his key-note address, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter outlined how the rights to food framework guides effective and sustainable ARD investment. He observed that “the role of the right to food in investment in ARD is basically one of squaring the triangle, i.e., taking the concerns of local communities in the tripartite relationship among capital exporting state, investors and the host state”. He added that respecting human rights gives investors a social license to operate and enables them meet the expectations of local communities, consumers, shareholders as well as states.

In elaborating the contents of the right to food and the related work of the FAO, Barbara Ekwall, a Senior Officer at ESA, said “the right to food gives teeth to the technical aspects of food security”.  Framing hunger as a result of the way society is organized, Ms Ekwall showed how the right to food could inform targeting, decision-making processes, accountability and capacity development in fighting hunger: “The right to food offers both an overall objective and tools. It promotes transparent, empowering and participatory decision-making, leading to more and better investments”.

Rolf Künnemann, the Human Rights Director of FIAN International, said that investment policies can violate human rights when they relate to “land grabbing”, and eco-destructive and other unhealthy practices: Investment in ARD is not a money machine where investors put some money at one end and collect more from the other”.  Referring to the farmers as the key private investors, he added “experience has shown that investment in agro-ecological peasant farming more than doubles the yields in Africa – in ecologically and socially acceptable ways”.

Finally, the Swiss Permanent Representative to FAO, Ms Christine Grieder, took stoke of inter-agency and intergovernmental work on principles on Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI). Focusing on the multi-stakeholder consultative process that has been launched by the CFS Bureau for the elaboration of RAI Principles in the context of Food Security and Nutrition, Ms Grieder underlined the basic tenet that responsible investment is one which respects human rights principles, such as participation, and is small-holder-sensitive.

The presentations and the discussions that followed showed the relevance of the right to food and other human rights principles to the advisory work of the TCI in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of ARD investment projects, and in the development of investment plans and strategies of states. While participants from TCI acknowledged this relevance, the session proved to be a first step towards further collaborative work for effective, efficient and sustainable ARD investment.