Food: it’s a human right

How FAO is helping every man, woman and child have access to affordable and nutritious food

Food is a necessity and an international human right. ©Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum Photos/FAO


A bowl of sheer khurma to round off an Eid meal. A piping hot turkey on the table at Christmas. Pan de muerto to remember loved ones who are no longer with us. Food is an integral part of many traditions, cultures and religions and, for many across the world, it is pleasure. But it’s much more than that: food is a necessity and a human right. 

In 1966, the Right to Food was enshrined in international law in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Generally understood as the right to feed oneself in dignity, it is more than just freedom from hunger; it is the idea that everyone, everywhere should have access to an adequate, nutritious diet: one that is accessible without going to great lengths to obtain it, one that is affordable, meaning that families do not having to sacrifice other basic needs to buy it, and one that is both nutritious and in line with religious and cultural customs.    

Over the last decades, FAO has supported nations to commit to and implement this important goal and a number of countries have developed and implemented constitutional amendments, national laws, strategies, policies and programmes that aim to ensure the right to food. 

Here are just a couple of countries where FAO has helped further the Right to Food:


Despite being a picturesque holiday destination, Fiji faces a unique set of challenges when it comes to food, and many Fijians suffer from malnutrition. Because the country is a Small Island Developing State, it is particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change, with droughts and floods regularly destroying crops. Because of this and the consequences on the production of fresh food, Fijians are highly dependent on imported goods and lower quality, processed foods, which is often cheaper than fresh food grown nearby. 

With FAO’s technical support, the government has put together a strategy that will ensure that every Fijian has a right to food by increasing access to and production of nutritious food. The government has committed to distributing 36 000 garden packages of different vegetable and fruits seeds to the local population to help widen access to nutritious foods like mangos, avocados, guavas, dragon fruit, breadfruit and passionfruit. This will help reduce the import bill of fruits, boost farmers’ livelihoods and generally improve the health of Fiji’s population. In the wake of COVID-19, which has threatened food security even further, FAO has supported this initiative with both seeds and tools. 

FAO is supporting the Nepalese local government in implementing the Right to Food. Left/top: ©FAO/Sailendra Kharel. Right: ©Patrick Zachmann/Magnum Photos/FAO


Six percent of Nepal’s population was chronically hungry in 2019, while 33.8 percent faced moderate to severe food insecurity that year. FAO has been supporting the Government of Nepal to promote, protect and monitor the Right to Food since 2010. With FAO’s policy guidance, the Right to Food became part of the country’s constitution in 2015.

Three years later, Nepal passed the Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act which codifies a number of guarantees including “the right of every citizen to regular access to adequate, nutritious and quality food without discrimination; to be free from hunger; to have sustainable access to food and nutritional support; to access to resources necessary for agricultural works and to use culturally accepted food.” The Act also specifies recognition and dignity of every peasant. 

In 2020, Nepal’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development asked FAO for assistance in developing bylaws to assist local governmental authorities in implementing this human right. This has contributed to the country´s commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular to further reduce poverty and the prevalence of underweight, stunting and wasting among children under five years of age.  


Colombia has been undergoing a period of great change. It has emerged from a half-century long conflict, and its recovery has had to overcome many challenges. One of these is malnutrition. When the peace agreement was signed in 2016, its first point centred on fighting hunger and promoting rural reforms and development, ensuring that all citizens would have a Right to Food. 

To make this idea a reality, FAO was asked to lend their expertise. FAO has held training sessions, technical debates and workshops to educate policymakers on the Right to Food and develop effective policies. 

One of the key aspects of FAO’s work has been helping retrain ex-combatants to begin a new life in the agricultural sector. In their transition to civilian life, ex-combatants were provided by the government with a piece of land on which they could start new livelihoods. FAO has been charged with helping make these spaces productive, providing agricultural training, technology and seeds to help these new farmers produce healthy, nutritious foods for their local communities and a resilient income for themselves.

The FAO-supported project in Colombia has helped promote agriculture and food security in the wake of a 52-year conflict. ©Patrick Zachmann/Magnum Photos/FAO

Food: it’s a human right

Despite the progress made over the past 25 years, today about one in every nine people in the world still suffers from hunger. The COVID-19 crisis has fuelled poverty, exacerbated inequalities and widened gaps in the application of human rights. We must ensure that the progress made in ensuring the Right to Food does not lose ground, especially during this difficult time.

FAO’s work on the Right to Food continues to be one of our top priorities to ensure that food is accessible, affordable and adequate for everyone in the world.

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2. Zero hunger, 17. Partnership for the goals