Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)


Reducing inequalities for food security and nutrition - HLPE consultation on the report’s scope

During its 46th  plenary session (14–18 October 2019), the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) adopted its four-year Programme of Work (MYPoW 2020-2023), which includes a request to its High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) to produce a report on “Reducing inequalities for food security and nutrition”, to be presented at the 51st plenary session of the CFS in October 2023.

The report, which will provide recommendations to the CFS workstream on inequalities, will:

  • Analyse quantitative and qualitative evidence relating to how inequalities in access to assets (particularly land, other natural resources and finance), and incomes within the agri-food systems impede opportunities for many actors to overcome food insecurity and malnutrition. Relevant data on asset endowments in rural communities will be useful in this respect, along with the findings of latest SOFI reports. Given the focus on agri-food systems and the key role of family farmers within these systems, linkages and complementarities with the UN Decade of Family Farming will be examined, including as reference to decent employment issues in the agri-food sector;
  • Analyse the drivers of inequalities and provide recommendations on entry points to address these;
  • Identify areas requiring further research and data collection, also in view of the opportunities provided by the ongoing joint effort of the World Bank, FAO and IFAD within the 50 x 2030 Initiative.

The proposed thematic workstream on inequalities will contribute to the CFS vision and the overall objective of addressing the root causes of food insecurity with a focus on the people most affected by hunger and malnutrition. The focus will be on inequalities within agri-food systems. The workstream will provide an analysis, based on this HLPE report, on drivers of socio-economic inequalities between actors within agri-food systems that influence food security and nutrition outcomes. Gender inequalities and the need to create opportunities for youth would inform the analysis.

Please note that in parallel to this scoping consultation, the HLPE is calling for interested experts to candidate to the Project Team for this report. The call for candidature is open until April 19. Read more here.

According to the HLPE 2nd Note on Critical and Emerging Issues (2017), increasing risks to food security and nutrition can be linked to high levels of income concentration, corporate concentration in food trade, transformation and distribution, as well as to uneven distribution of agricultural assets and access to natural resources (CFS MYPoW 2020-2023). In addition, unequal endowments in agricultural assets and access to natural resources (such as land) together with income inequality deeply affect food security and nutrition. Unequal access to food and adequate nutrition further deepen inequalities through lost opportunities in health, education and jobs. Sustained disparities between vulnerable and other social groups – reflecting inequalities between and within countries - can slow growth and lead to political instability and conflict, migration flows, with related adverse consequences on food security and nutrition (HLPE, 2017). Stark inequalities in access to basic services and assets, but also in terms of food security and nutrition, affect households' prospects for overcoming poverty, and ultimately perpetuate food insecurity and malnutrition (Ibidem). One of the starkest trends of recent years has been the growing concentration in food-related production, industries and services, which has affected power relations between different actors in food systems and fuelled inequalities (HLPE, 2020).

The HLPE (2017, 2020) has stressed the importance of addressing food security and nutrition through a food systems approach, highlighting the linkages between supply chains, food environments, consumers’ behaviour and the resource, economic, social and institutional systems that connect to food. Inequalities affecting food systems’ drivers can be transmitted to all components of food systems and ultimately affect food security and nutrition outcomes. Furthermore, HLPE (2021) stressed the importance of using an intersectionality[1] lens in analyzing and addressing inequalities: different dimensions of inequalities, based on individual, household, community and country characteristics, intersect and are mutually reinforcing. Reducing inequalities requires addressing the different dimensions of inequality holistically and simultaneously, being aware of the complex power dynamics that generate and sustain inequalities.

COVID-19 has further exacerbated existing inequalities, as the brunt of the economic, social and health impact are being borne by the most vulnerable individuals, communities and countries. The estimated impact of the pandemic is an increase in the average Gini index for emerging and developing countries by 6 percent ( Human rights are at the core of the 2030 Agenda, which with the motto “No one left behind”, recognizes the severe consequences of inequalities on the attainment of sustainable development. Agenda 2030 has two goals specifically concerning inequalities (SDG 5 and SDG 10), in addition to including inequality reduction in a number of targets and indicators ( To reduce inequalities, it is fundamental to ensure comprehensive legal frameworks and governance systems able to uphold human rights, including the right to food.

The report will focus both on (a) inequalities originating within food systems and concerning nutrition and (b) inequalities in the political, social, cultural and economic environment around food systems, which have a bearing on unequal outcomes regarding FSN. 

The report will document the scale, the multidimensional, dynamic, intergenerational and intersectional aspects of inequality regarding food security and nutrition, how individuals are affected depending on their characteristics (age, gender, location, social group - class, ethnicity, race, migrant vs. native status), within households, communities, local and national levels, and between countries. Inequalities often depend on the priorities and choices of private and public investments, or legal status, and more generally, on the political balance between urban and rural areas or different regions, particularly if there are religious and/or ethnic differences within a country. Particular attention needs to be given to conflict areas and fragile States. The report will also deal with market power at different levels in food systems, driving inequality throughout supply chains from production to food processing, transport, distribution and trade. 

The response to such multi-dimensional and multi-actor inequality calls for a holistic and integrated approach for fair and equitable development (HLPE, 2021). Broadening the definition of food security, as proposed by HLPE (2020) provides a framework to comprehend the nexus between inequalities and social, economic, and environmental sustainability in food systems. The report will explore how inequalities originating within food systems can be alleviated, learning from good practices in existing policies, legal frameworks, approaches and interventions. Support for agroecological practices, small scale agriculture, territorial/local market initiatives, as well as alternative educational methods  including the use of digital tools and platforms accessible  to all, are among the options that have been identified as promising development pathways for transforming food systems and promoting food security and nutrition for all (HLPE, 2020 and 2021). 

These developments need to be put in context, taking into account the concentration of market power in global food systems. The report will develop the concept of “agency” as a lens to address the issue of structural barriers to obtaining economic resources and of inequalities in food security and nutrition, and define the right to food as a legal entitlement towards equality through upholding all relevant human rights, raising living standards, and eliminating intergenerational inequality for all. 

Questions to guide the e-Consultation on the scope of the report

With this e-consultation, the HLPE Steering Committee is seeking your feedback. In particular, you are invited to:

1. Share your comments and suggestions on the objectives and content of this report: 

  1. Defining inequality within the context of food systems and for food security and nutrition
  1. What does ‘inequality’ mean through a food security and nutrition perspective; 
  2. Trends within and between countries (data collection, measurement tools);
  3. Links between health and nutrition inequalities and labour productivity, educational attainment, economic growth and human wellbeing; 
  4. Commitments to reduce inequality (SDGs), efforts to improve measurement;
  5. Relationship between inequality and inequity. 
  1. Identifying drivers of power asymmetry that cause and perpetuate inequality 
  1. Concentration of economic, social, and political capital within the food systems;
  2. Structural barriers to equality for historically disadvantaged and poor populations (women, people of colour, rural and urban poor, indigenous communities, peasants, migrants, refugees, etc.).
  1. Paths toward equality
  1. Human Rights Based approach - “equality” as a human right principle, relevance to the right to food;
  2. Good governance to rebalance power and influence;
  3. Legal and policy interventions to regulate the influence of corporate actors (and those with concentrated power), and remove structural barriers and increase capital (for those with diminished resources).   

2. Share good practices and successful experiences on policy, legislation,  interventions and initiatives that have proven successful at:

  1. reducing inequality gap and its potential  impact on  food security and nutrition outcomes;
  2. ensuring the effective  legal framework to guarantee equal rights to access land and other productive resources, basic services, and the right to food to reduce inequalities;
  3. enhancing food systems’ role in the reduction of inequalities (through income and livelihoods generation, while contributing to healthy diets and environment, among others);
  4. empowering the role of small farmers’, producers’ and workers’ organizations in making food systems more equitable and accessible;
  5. addressing capacity gaps in generating and using data and other new technologies  in policy-making processes, monitoring and reporting on inequalities for FSN.

3. Share the most recent references that should be considered in this report.

4. Provide feedback on the following questions, to guide the development of the report:

  1. How do food systems drivers affect inequalities? And specifically what are the different impacts of trends in:
  1. assets, land, other natural resources and finance
  2. infrastructure and technology, including ICT
  3. market structure in input provision, logistics, processing, transport, distribution of food
  4. access to information and data
  5. demographic trends including migration and urbanisation
  6. socio-cultural factors around gender, ethnicity, religion, caste, race, language and their intersection
  7. political and economic factors (presence/absence of a legal framework to ensure equal rights to key resources and services and the expression of agency)? 
  1. How can social inequalities impact FSN outcomes? 
  2. How can the reduction of inequalities in food systems’ drivers foster sustainable economic and social transformation and improve FSN? Which different pathways should be considered? Which policies and practices have proven to work in reducing inequalities in FSN outcomes? Are there livelihood systems that are more successful at reducing inequalities and enhancing empowerment? 
  3. How can the reduction of inequalities through sustainable food systems and better FSN contribute to conflict prevention and peace building?
  4. How can gender and youth mainstreaming approaches, as well as adopting an intersectional lens on inequalities, taking multiple identities together in the analysis (including gender and youth) in food systems contribute to social justice and better FSN?
  5. What are the main knowledge and data gaps hindering the understanding of how inequalities determine FSN outcomes? What could be improved in data collection and analysis tools for FSN inequalities?
  6. How can strengthened food systems’ governance contribute to the reduction of inequalities in FSN outcomes? 
  7. Which legal frameworks can guarantee equal rights to land, basic services, but also the right to food, and do they contribute to reducing inequalities? 
  8. What is the role of political economy in reducing inequalities in food systems and in reducing other inequalities that have an impact on FSN outcomes?

We look forward to a rich and fruitful consultation!

Évariste Nicolétis, HLPE Coordinator

Paola Termine, HLPE Project Officer
[1] Intersectionality often refers to a person's multiple intersecting identities, including gender, class, caste, race, occupation, ethnicity, etc.

This activity is now closed. Please contact [email protected] for any further information.

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From: Wenche Barth Eide, University of Oslo/Department of Nutrition; former member of HLPE Project Team for HLPE 4 on Social Protection for Food Security (2012).

I am pleased to submit a few comments to the scoping proposal, even if late.  My comments are restricted to issues relating to human rights, which as usual receive somewhat limited feedback, although there are indeed some interesting commentaries regarding this among the responses to this proposal.  

Mine relate to the elements of a human rights-based approach to analysing and mitigating inequalities in the agriculture and food systems and how this should be introduced in the report, in view of its assumed importance to mitigate inequalities. This remains open in the document, which limits itself to three concerns re. human rights:

  1. A general statement in the body of the document: “To reduce inequalities, it is fundamental to ensure comprehensive legal frameworks and governance systems able to uphold human rights, including the right to food.”
  2. A demand for feedback in ‘1.c. Paths towards equality: i. Human Rights Based approach - “equality” as a human right principle, relevance to the right to food’; and 
  3. (also for feedback) ‘4.h. Which legal framework can guarantee equal rights to land, basic services, but also the right to food, and do they contribute to reducing inequalities?’ 

At the end I have some suggestions in connection with the food security concept and the normative content on the right to adequate food. 

On 1, it is satisfying to see such an explicit prior recognition of the necessity for the report to deal with legal frameworks as part of governance if one wants to assist in people’s realization of their rights towards reducing inequality, here first of all relevant economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) including the right to adequate food. Having said this, I have a concern with the wording used to reflect the purpose of it all – to uphold human rights. Very many vulnerable individuals and population groups will certainly have been far from ever enjoying their basic rights - all the way from birth, so there is very often little to ‘uphold’ (the way I understand this term) but rather much to realize in the first place - “leaving no on behind”.   It follows that the full spectre of what is meant with a human rights based approach must be briefly reflected and documented in the report; if necessary, expanded in an annex as a bit of “adult education” (to combat the widespread human rights illiteracy often observed in international debates, see HLPE 4, Annex (in e-version). 

There is a direct line to point 2 here, where “equality” as pertaining to a human rights-based approach is singled out (deriving from the title of report) and the question asked about its relevance to the right to food. In the body of terms and interpretations that has been built up around the right to adequate food (but equally relevant to other economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR)), equality is one of several principles or “values” identified as essential in orienting policies and actions towards human rights.  Equality is however normally linked to another of these principles – that of non-discrimination and the two are usually being mentioned together [1]. These and the six other process values that have been proposed for analytical, advocacy and policy work on the right to adequate food, combine to form the acronym PANTHER - coined by FAO in the first decade of the millennium and familiar to many: Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination (and equality), Transparency, Human dignity, Empowerment and Respect or the Rule of Law [2].  

Two other sets of concepts and their interpretations add to the full definition of a rights-based approach: on the one hand the normative basis of the right to adequate food and related rights, and on the other, the framework for interpreting and formulating state obligations, to be practiced  on a select basis depending on the given right and issues in question. Both sets are expressed in the interpretation hitherto recognized as the most authoritative of the right to adequate food: General Comment no. 12 on the Right to adequate food from the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1999. On obligations, the now popular ‘mantra’ of respect, protect and fulfil actions towards human rights will be known to many, with fulfil alternatively accommodating to facilitate and/or directly to provide food - or assets for food, depending on the situation. 

Regarding point 3 - which legal framework to guarantee equal rights to land, basic services, and to food, and how do they contribute to reducing inequalities (if at all)? 

First an observation on the relatively sloppy linguistics contained in “to guarantee” – surprisingly found in many legal texts, even if in the context of ESCR many rights can never be guaranteed. Legal approaches can, for example, guarantee certain means of social protection, but not necessarily guarantee that this will reduce inequality in general - although applying legal instruments can make it more likely that a certain right can be achieved. The report should be careful with this language and not repeat the over-optimism implied in the term guarantee. 

In practice, concrete field experiences are needed to provide examples of legal frameworks tried out in various contexts and situations; it is hoped that the report can bring many examples of successes or the contrary, from real life situations to learn from. At the theoretical and guidance level, FAO’s Development Law Service issues a series of “Legal papers” several of which focusing on many of the issue areas important for inequalities in the agriculture/food sector, see

Associated with the latter, reference must also be made to the large volume of educational and practical publications developed be FAOs Right to Food Unit (from shortly after the publication of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Adequate Food and onwards for several years). This has often surprisingly been overlooked/not referred to by HLPE reports, including the 2020 one. The Right to Food Methodological Toolbox in particular contains a wealth of material regarding all aspects of respecting/protecting/fulfilling and promoting the right to adequate food, further operationalized in handbooks and other material [3]. The report should find a way to expose this material as a must for anyone interested in operationalising human rights, besides surely another wealth of material increasingly available from civil society and field experiences. 

Food security and the right to food

The important 2020 HLPE report with its narrative towards 2030, has done much to revitalize the discussion on food security, also committing explicitly to human rights. The addition of agency and sustainability to the four food security components is logical and timely and has been welcomed by many (including this author) but met with scepticism by others who are happy to leave the definition as it was. The one weakness both of the four-pillar model and the now ,expanded six-pillar model as proposed, is that neither include ‘adequacy’ which is basic to the right to food as expressed in international law. The new report may perhaps bring this up, since the parameters of adequacy of the (nutritionally, safety-wise and) are pertinent to inequalities in dietary patterns and consumption. 

As regards the official normative basis of the right to food, adequacy is central, as is sustainability related to availability – both elaborated in GC12, besides accessibility: economic, physical and (added later) social. Since the human rights values or principles of conduct of duties and obligations were factored into the right to food concept some years later than GC12, participation represented part of the agency concept, but then in terms of peoples’ participation only. Thus, the right to food could well be further elaborated to encompass agency in terms of states’ and their institutions’ capacities and resources etc., for embarking on integral human rights-based approaches. 


[1] As also underscored by the response from EU to this consultation “as being rooted in the EU’s commitments to promote and protect human rights as the principles of non-discrimination and equality are complementing principles of international human rights law”.

[2] Originally selected from “The Human Rights Based Approach to Development Cooperation. Towards a Common Understanding Among UN Agencies, September 2003, UNSDG Working Group on Human Rights.

[3] See:

I would like to submit some comments from our side, as compiled by contributions made from colleagues, on the initial scope and building blocks for the planned HLPE Report.

In general we need to stress that:

  • This initiative is very much welcomed - and strongly aligned with the European Commission's prioritization of this agenda (along with a rights based approach) as evidenced by the publication last year of 3 volumes of Guidance on Addressing Inequality in Partner Countries as a follow up to the Staff Working Document and Council Conclusion on the same. These documents provide the basis for much of the response articulated in the attached.
  • There is some missing clarity about the real scope of the report: While the current title is reducing inequalities for food security and nutrition, it is explicitly stated that the intended focus is in fact on ‘inequalities within agri-food systems’. Hence, the report should either be on ‘Reducing inequalities for food security and nutrition’ or on ‘Reducing inequalities within agri-food systems to contribute to food security and nutrition’. If the latter, then it must be explicitly acknowledged that while contributing to food security and nutrition outcomes, the transformation of food systems alone cannot bring about the end of food insecurity and malnutrition. If the focus is on addressing inequalities for food security and nutrition, then equality needs to be more comprehensively analysed with policy domains such as labour, housing and education recognised as key for FSN outcomes.
  • There are some concerns that the intersection of gender inequalities may not adequately integrated into the current thinking.
  • We need to better address the climate change - inequalities nexus.

We feel that these are quite pertinent comments and will contribute to the the scope and building blocks of the report.

Kind regards


Hello, kindly find attached the inputs collected from food security, nutrition, gender, and livelihoods staff at World Vision International. Our comments focus mainly on identifying root causes of inequality and addressing these imbalances through meaningful shifts in power distribution. In order to contribute to the CFS vision and the overall objective of addressing the root causes of food insecurity, we must go deeper than simply talking about drivers.

E-Consultation on inequality in FSN

i. Inequality from food security and nutrition perspective means disparity in access to resources, opportunities and outcomes in agri-food system relative to socio-economic characteristics of an individual, community, nation or region.

ii. Trends within and between countries (data collection, measurement tools); World Inequality Report, 2022, World Inequality Database (WID)

iii. Links between health and nutrition inequalities and labour productivity, educational attainment, economic growth and human wellbeing;

Inequalities in health and nutrition impact negatively on the vulnerable individuals, communities, nations and regions consequently on labour productivity in agriculture and other sectors. Educational attainment is a common denominator that can significantly affect health and nutrition security, enhance productivity, economic growth and wellbeing at individual and all levels to facilitate equal and equitable access to resources and outcomes.

iv. Commitments to reduce inequality (SDGs)- UN systems , EU, AU Organizations- FARA, AFAAS

Efforts to improve measurement-Professional bodies, including those I belong:

a. Agricultural Extension Society of Nigeria (AESON), 

b. National Rural Sociological Association (NRSA)

c.Organization of Women in Science for Developing World (OWSD); 

d. Nigerian Forum for Agriculture and Advisory Services (NIFAAS)


f. Agriculture, Nutrition and Health (ANH) Academy

v. Relationship between inequality and inequity-

Inequity refers to unfairness which could arise from poor governance, corruption or cultural exclusion while inequality simply refers to the uneven distribution of resources and assets based on socio-cultural and economic variables age, gender. Inequality breeds inequity which perpetrates inequality.

2. Share good practices and successful experiences on policy, legislation, interventions and initiatives that have proven successful at: 

a. reducing inequality gap and its potential impact on food security and nutrition outcomes- Some interventions in Agriculture in Nigeria e.g Fadama Programme, IFAD assited RTEP, Community-Based Natural Resourses Management Programme in Nigeria.

3. Share the most recent references that should be considered in this report.

This contribution to this consultation will focus on reducing inequality, food security and nutrition in the context of fragility. We define inequality as the furthest behind in the food systems as people living in IPC 3- to IPC 5. We suggest Integrating data sources to categorise further and quantify the levels of inequality experienced by people with severe food insecurity. We link nutritional indicators as a modality to categorise the levels of food insecurity at an individual level. This modality helps us identify the who, where and what of interventions. We suggest that integrating a human rights-based narrative to nutritional indicators might help us develop a right-based care modality that prioritises the furthest behind people in our world.

This paper seeks not to be aspirational and so is cognisant of the field restrictions that have come to define how we work across the Humanitarian Development Peace nexus. This attached paper focuses on just two of the questions posed in this consultation.

1 What does ‘inequality’ mean through a food security and nutrition perspective?

2 Human Rights Based approach - “equality” as a human right principle, relevance to the right to food;

Kind Regards,

Pat Mc Mahon

Mothers First