Fighting for the right to food

"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."
- Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Fifty years on from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the fight to defend one of the most basic of those rights - the right to food - goes on. In a new publication, released on the 50th anniversary of the declaration, 10 December 1998, FAO looks at "The right to food in theory and practice".

"The rights related to food are of special concern to FAO and other agencies involved in food, agriculture and rural development," said the Organization's Director-General Jacques Diouf, in the new book. The Preamble to the FAO Constitution identifies "ensuring humanity's freedom from hunger" as one of the basic purposes of the Organization.

Hunger is a violation of human dignity. It is an impediment to social, political and economic progress. Hunger prevents farmers from planting their fields. It prevents parents from caring for their children. It prevents children from learning to read and write. The right to food is certainly one of the most basic human rights.

World leaders pledged their political will and commitment to achieving food security for all and to eradicating hunger in all countries at the November 1996 World Food Summit (WFS) held at FAO headquarters in Rome. One of the objectives of WFS Plan of Action is to improve the definition and implementation of the rights related to food.

National governments have the primary role in defending the right to food

The primary responsibility for ensuring the right to adequate food and the fundamental right to freedom from hunger lies with national governments, according to the publication in an article by the FAO Legal Office on the role of national legislation in implementing food-related rights.

So far 20 countries have enshrined the right to food in their constitution. "As yet, however, no country has adopted national legislation expressly to implement this right. Neither has any substantial work been done to establish how such commitments can be implemented by national legislation," according to the article.

"The right to food in theory and practice" examines food-related rights from both the human rights and the operational perspectives. The publication is introduced by Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Articles include an overview of women's right to food, a summary of WFS follow-up action, and an outline of the Special Programme for Food Security, the FAO initiative to assist the world's poorest countries to improve food security through rapid increases in productivity and food production. The Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System (FIVIMS) - a tool to find out who the hungry are and the reasons for their hunger - is also discussed.

The non-governmental organization FoodFirst Information and Action Network, as well as the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, also contributed to the publication.

10 December 1998

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