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In 1996, at the World Food Summit, Heads of State and Government reaffirmed “the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.” The declaration of the World Food Summit: five years later, in June 2002, reaffirmed the importance of strengthening the respect of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and invited “the FAO Council to establish an Intergovernmental Working Group to develop a set of Voluntary Guidelines to support Member States’ efforts to achieve the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security”.

An Intergovernmental Working Group was established in November 2002 and working relationships, in particular with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, were strengthened. After two years of intense and constructive negotiations and discussions among members of the Intergovernmental Working Group and its Bureau as well as representatives of stakeholders and civil society, the Voluntary Guidelines were adopted by the FAO Council in November 2004.

The Voluntary Guidelines represent the first attempt by governments to interpret an economic, social and cultural right and to recommend actions to be undertaken for its realization. The objective of the Voluntary Guidelines is to provide practical guidance to States in their implementation of the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security, in order to achieve the goals of the World Food Summit Plan of Action. Relevant stakeholders could also benefit from such guidance. The Voluntary Guidelines cover the full range of actions to be considered by governments at the national level in order to build an enabling environment for people to feed themselves in dignity and to establish appropriate safety nets for those who are unable to do so. They can be used to strengthen and improve current development frameworks, particularly with regard to social and human dimensions, putting the entitlements of people more firmly at the centre of development.

The Voluntary Guidelines represent a step towards integrating human rights into the work of agencies dealing with food and agriculture, such as FAO, as called for by the United Nations Secretary-General within his UN reforms. They provide an additional instrument to combat hunger and poverty and to accelerate attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

FAO is committed to strengthening its capacity, with the help of Member States, to assist willing governments to implement the Voluntary Guidelines. The Organization looks forward to cooperating with governments and other key actors that wish to pursue rights-based approaches to poverty reduction and are interested in realizing the right to adequate food in the context of national food security by implementing the Voluntary Guidelines. Striving to ensure that every child, woman and man enjoy adequate food on a regular basis is not only a moral imperative and an investment with enormous economic returns; it also signifies the realization of a basic human right.

Jacques Diouf


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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