Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Congratulations to HLPE for embarking on this massive exercise to combine approaches to updated data collection for FSN with developing tools for analysis and policy formulation at different levels. My comments are guided by questions for feedback under 1 and 2 without directly responding to each of these.

I commend including the two additional dimensions in the in the renewed food security definition, but miss a better role for all dimensions as drivers in data collection.. I regret the lack of an explicit normative approach to the whole exercise by not applying a human rights-based approach. I ask whether the conceptual frameworks for the matrix proposed are the best ones and refer to the option of a right to food matrix as developed in the context of FAO. Finally, I ask HLPE and the Steering Committee to address human rights/the right to food in HLPE 17 in line with HLPE 15.

The expanded FSN definition: The definition of food security proposed in the V0 Draft was, in my opinion, one of two particularly notable contributions in the HLPE 15. The other was the effort to place the narrative on desirable developments towards 2030 in an explicit human rights/right to food framework, this has not been followed up in the V0 17, as I come back to.

The two “new” concepts agency and sustainability (as added to the earlier four: availability; access, stability, and utilization that have typically been used within the UN FSN circles) greatly enrich the food security concept. As expressed by the authors themselves these have already been around for a long time in parts of the discussion around FSN. It is therefore very timely to bring them in as components in a reformulated FS concept when discussing data collection and analysis tools for FS at different organizational levels and their interrelations as part of a maturing FS understanding.

Agency as originally launched by Amartya Sen has - at least in part, been embedded in talks and action around people’s participation in matters that concern themselves, especially when the discussions have included capacity and resources for action, and the needed authority for implementing certain tasks and practices. I am inclined to think it might be better to keep to the more easily understood “participation language” in the widest sense rather than the elegant term agency of Sen – after all it has a double meaning which can create confusion and it can to some appear very academic.

In this connection, the V0 does not reflect the needed balance between quantitative and qualitative methodologies to collect data based on real needs of those most experiencing food insecurity and malnutrition. The request by the CFS for the HLPE 17 included to “Provide insights into how to ensure data collection and its utilization give voice to the people most affected stemming from that data, including farmers and other food producers”. This is unclear as it does not explicitly mention the importance that all vulnerable population groups themselves be directly involved in collection of “that data” relating to their own situation. Participatory data collection engaging these groups themselves is indispensable. UNICEF among others has been in the forefront for many years to build participatory capacity for community engagement which is very relevant for local data collection and subsequent action from which indicators of agency or participatory principles can be generated and stimulated.

Sustainability is increasingly critical in the context of e.g., preservation of biodiversity, adaptation to climate change, different agricultural methods now with increasingly greater attention to acro-ecology, and generally in the economic, environmental, and social contexts of a household, representing a wider foundation for stability as well. So far, the concept is not really operationalized in V0 but must be done in the continuation; it is noted that various groups use the term differently. The concept also reminds that FSN links to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030 which is an additional advantage.

The expanded framework was recently applied by the FAO Legal Office/Development Law Service in a publication on “Transforming agri-food systems. Legislative interventions for improved nutrition and sustainability” (see reference below).

Taking seriously an explicit normative approach as anchored in CFS: According to the 4-step decision-making cycle this starts with defining a set of one to three “evidence priorities”. But what should drive this selection? In the e-consultation in March 2021 on the scope of the forthcoming HLPR 17, the CSM called for a normative dimension: “The report should be clear about collecting data for what, how and for whose benefit. We propose, based on the CFS normative anchoring, that this report should identify how data collection and use can contribute to upholding the rights of Indigenous Peoples, women, peasants and family farmers, workers throughout food systems, fisherfolk, pastoralists, consumers; and how data collection and use should be governed and regulated in order to respect and protect human and peoples’ rights.”

Surprisingly, however, in spite of having drawn inspiration from HLPE 15 as regards the expanded CFS definition, the V0 Draft is void of any reference to its human rights orientation. The HLPE 15 placed the whole narrative in a human rights /right to food perspective (even if coming short on the more specific features and procedures of the system as developed within the UN). I believe that many more than me even may have visualized this as a step towards a profound and professional discussion within the frame of the CFS, leaning on the Committee’s articulated value base as originally established in the Global Strategic Framework for Food Security and Nutrition and reflected in several of the products from CFS over the years since its reform in 2009. These in turn were grounded in international human rights law and in the extensive elaboration by countries themselves in the “Voluntary Guidelines on the Progressive Realization of the Human Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security” adopted by the FAO Council in October 2004. FAO followed up with further extensive operationalization which was collected in the FAO Right to Food Methodological Toolbox in 2009 and several further practical Handbooks in 2014 based on these tools (references below). Some HLPE reports have related to human rights, most substantively HLPE 4.

It is not known why the drafters of V0 completely left out reference to this part of the narrative. They may have a priori bended to assumed political resistance to bring in human rights (as was exemplified in the negotiations for the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition (VGFSyN). The independent science-policy arm of CFS ought however to take this opportunity to consider data and analysis tools in a human rights context. Not to do so is regrettable in general, and specifically since the human rights institutional and procedural frameworks indeed call for data from all state parties to important human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and others.

Unfortunately, many in the food system/nutrition community remain unaware that these instruments have been ratified by a majority of UN Member States; also, that their own country may be among these and therefore being obliged to report periodically on the situation in their countries regarding the realisation of the provisions contained in these instruments – including the right to adequate food. In return they receive critical-constructive comments from the respective convention committees or treaty bodies of the UN on their performance, and suggestions for how to improve their situation.

Since the national reports have been very varied as regards the scope and quality of the data used by each country, data and analysis tools as now to be elaborated could also serve in building desirable indicators for use in such reporting. Furthermore, the full use of the agency concept and how it can be unlocked in practice becomes particularly critical and important for a human rights-based approach to data and indicators, whether structural, process or outcome indicators as typically relevant in human rights state reporting, and data needed for these.

The building and use of matrices as analytical tools in the V0 Draft. The V0 operates with three said conceptual frameworks (sometimes also calling the FS definition a framework) and merging them into one. One may ask whether the data driven decision making cycle for FSN is perhaps more a stepwise plan for any data collection process aimed to nourish policy formulation and action. Does it fit to use the term ‘conceptual framework’ for this? The six- component definition of food security is defined as cross-cutting the different levels in the FSN socio-ecosystem model as the other framework, assumed to give ideas for data within a matrix combining the two others. One might also think of a matrix where the components of food security become primary co-drivers of data identification in the first place, combined in a matrix with the different organizational levels.

A third option is the matrix developed over many years for the human right to adequate food, where the role or obligations of states that are parties to e.g., the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) are nuanced with regard to the degree of gradual state involvement in realizing the right to food (article 11 of the ICESCR). The matrix template (or variations of it) juxtaposes the chosen definition of food security with the commonly accepted categories of state obligations and engagement in terms of respecting, protecting, and fulfilling the right to food, the latter further nuanced in facilitating and/or directly providing when necessary. This opens up for conceptualisations about contextual actions and data needs at different levels. After a long gestalt period for this framework from its first presentation in a study on food as a human right in 1987 by the then UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights on request from the UN Commission (now Council) on Human Rights - and onwards, for a while merely in academic circles and some NGOs. The 1996 World Food Summit was a game changer in requesting a clarification of the right to food concept. Recent examples of the right to food matrix are i.a. available in the rich material developed by FAO’S Right to Food Unit (now Team) following the Right to Food Guidelines from 2004 onwards, see references below.

The right to food matrix has throughout included the concept of “adequacy” of the food (diet (further defined), besides availability, access, sustainability, and stability. Adequacy is lacking as such both in the four- and new six component model for FSN (but there somehow to be accommodated under ‘utilization’). The food security definition underlying the definition of the right to food has inspired General Comments 12, 14, 15 and 16 from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. on interpreting the right to food, to health, to water, and to education, respectively. Also, similar matrix templates have been proposed for these other rights.

The potential of a human rights-based approach – to be revisited and unlocked by HLPE? Part of the problem of not getting a serious discussion of FSN in a human rights context is, beside political constraints, that the right to food and related rights are unfortunately institutionally and conceptually still quite distant from the mainstream FSN circles based in the agricultural, food policy and nutrition expert and - not least - diplomatic circles. (“Human rights are for Geneva, not for Rome…”) That means that resistance to a rights-based approach to FSN has been able to grow over recent years led by a few dominant Member states, well noted during the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition adopted by the CFS in January 2021 which didn’t even include a definition of the right to food as a human right. It must be hoped that the team behind the V0 supported by the Steering Committee will take a new round of reflection of how the HLPE can break the current stalemate honouring the right to food as a human right and the special voluntary guidelines developed for it by FAO Member states less than two decades ago. There is a large, unlocked potential implied for a systemic and holistic approach to some of the most pressing problems related to hunger and all forms of malnutrition, besides related challenges regarding better and sustained planetary and environmental health. This may at the same time increase “human rights literacy” the widespread lack of which easily leads to many misunderstandings regarding the right to food and related rights.

Good luck to HLPE with the further process!

Wenche Barth Eide, emerita
Public Health Nutrition Research Group
Department of Nutrition
University or Oslo, Norway
Formerly a member of the Project team for HLPE 4.

Selected UN references:

FAO (2004) Voluntary Guidelines to support the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. https://www.fao.org/publications/card/en/c/cceef08f-0627-5ec9-a8e2-63d7…

FAO (2009): Right to Food Methodological Toolbox. Tool 2 on Monitoring and evaluation, Vol 2. (in collaboration with some specialized NGOs and academic groups.) https://www.fao.org/right-to-food/resources/rtf-methodological-toolbox

FAO (2014) Handbook on Procedures for Human Rights Monitoring (FAO 2014) http://www.fao.org/3/i3452e/i3452e.pdf, https://www.fao.org/right-to-food/resources/rtf-handbooks

CFS-HLPE (2012) Report no 4 on Social Protection for Food Security, and the Annex to its electronic version, http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/hlpe/hlpe_documents/HLPE_Repor….

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1999) General Comment no 12 on the Right to adequate food, https://undocs.org/E/C.12/1999/5

Selected recent publications/briefs from FAO Legal Office/ Development Law Service:

FAO (2021) Transforming agri-food systems. Legislative interventions for improved nutrition and sustainability. Preliminary version for public consultation. https://www.fao.org/3/cb6016en/cb6016en.pdf

FAO (2019) FAO (2019) Right to adequate food in constitutions. Legal brief for parliamentarians in Africa No. 1 https://www.fao.org/publications/card/en/c/CA3518EN

FAO (2019) Framework laws on the right to adequate food. Legal brief for parliamentarians in Africa No. 2. https://www.fao.org/publications/card/en/c/CA3519EN

FAO (2020) Right to adequate food in constitutions. Legal brief for parliamentarians in Latin America and the Caribbean No. 1 https://www.fao.org/publications/card/en/c/CB0448EN

FAO (2020) Framework laws on the right to adequate food. Legal brief for parliamentarians in Latin America and the Caribbean No. 2 https://www.fao.org/publications/card/en/c/CB0447EN