Academics advancing the right to food

How a group of pioneering scholars in Spain is contributing to the fight against hunger

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 states that food is a basic human right. Decades later over 820 million people are still going hungry. ©FAO/Pedro Costa Gomes


“Everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living that assures them, as well as their family, health and well-being, and especially food, clothing, housing, medical assistance and necessary social services; (...)” - Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25.

In December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations marked an important milestone with the first international recognition of fundamental human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 25 of this Declaration established the human right to food. However, 71 years later, there are still millions of people around the world lacking these basic rights. More specifically, over 820 million people do not have enough nutritious food to lead active and healthy lives.

Since its creation in 1945, FAO has dedicated all of its efforts to eradicating hunger and malnutrition. To this end, the Organization works closely with its member states, but also with actors from other essential sectors to ensure that the right to food is upheld throughout the world.

A worldwide struggle

Hunger and malnutrition do not just affect developing countries. Even in high-income countries, people are still fighting for this right. Not only must food be accessible, but it must also be healthy and nutritious. Governments must work to ensure that this is the case, adopting legislation to do so.

"Hunger is a complex problem that cannot be tackled in isolation from a single perspective since there are several factors that impact agriculture and food," explains Celia Fernández Aller, a law professor at the Polytechnic University of Madrid in Spain. Celia is part of the Right to Food Watch in Spain (ODA-E), a network of academics unique in Europe.

"A Watch of this nature is necessary in Spain," she said firmly. “Not only because food insecurity has worsened in recent years, but because building a fairer world involves all countries. Developed nations cause and influence many of the problems that affect the world, such as climate change, the industrial model and energy consumption.”

Unhealthy eating is one of the main risk factor of deaths caused by non-communicable diseases. The Right to Food is not just about access to food, it is about access to nutritious food. Left: ©FAO/Eduardo Soteras; Right: ©FAO/Miguel Schincariol

Another of the ODA-E’s priorities is to stop unhealthy eating. Unhealthy diets are a main risk factor of deaths caused by non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes and certain types of cancer. The treatment of these diseases also has a negative impact on national health budgets.

Celia collaborates with the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, where the Watch gives workshops on the human right to adequate food to officials with the objective of contributing to the institutional recognition of this universal right.

Celia was one of the guests invited to speak at the round table organized by FAO at the World Food Day event in Spain:

“In my speech to members of the Ministry of Agriculture, I urged the recognition of the human right to adequate food, not only by states, but also by businesses and the whole of society. It was an excellent opportunity to raise political and public awareness about its importance,” she said.

Another member of the ODA-E, Amparo Novo, who is a professor of Food Sociology at the University of Oviedo in Northern Spain, participated as an observer in the first World Parliamentary Summit against Hunger and Malnutrition. Held in October 2018 in the Spanish capital, the Right to Food Watch prepared a set of proposals and challenges: among them, implementing fiscal policies that tax processed foods, restricting the advertising of foods that affect unhealthy diets and developing a framework law on the right to food.

"It is necessary to encourage a dialogue with the institutions involved - otherwise we will not be able to eradicate hunger and malnutrition," Amparo says.

The ODA-E usually works with decision makers to achieve their goals, especially the recently created Spanish Parliamentary Alliance for the right to food.

“They are one of our greatest allies. We count on their support. Our ultimate goal is to assist in the analysis of legislative initiatives and monitor their progress. Together we can clarify which is the best path in politics and governance to carry out the human right to adequate food,” adds Amparo.

The members of the ODA-E meet regularly to discuss proposals for action that guarantee the right to food, and to share these proposals with legislators and civil society. @FAO/Marta Ramón Pascual

Inspiration from the other side of the Atlantic

The ODA-E was created in 2018, inspired by the ODA of Latin America and the Caribbean, which started in 2011. Both Watches have the support of the FAO Right to Food team and the Hunger-Free Latin America and Caribbean Initiative, which was a result of the alliance between the Government of Spain and FAO.

“We noticed that the challenges facing Latin America, such as climate change or migration, also affect Spain. Hunger and malnutrition are a global issue, and we also suffer in Europe,” says Amparo.

The ODA-E has attracted a lot of interest since its creation and is currently made up of ten universities, ten social entities and about 40 individual researchers. All of them participate regularly in advocacy activities, with the view that this information needs wide visibility and practical application to create awareness and change, instead of the knowledge remaining behind closed doors in offices or libraries.

The academic sector has a fundamental responsibility to cultivate knowledge, disseminate accurate data, develop analytical capabilities and communicate the value of basic human rights. The 2030 Agenda calls for the participation of a variety of actors, and the academic world has much to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Learn more

2. Zero hunger, 17. Partnership for the goals