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Government has an obligation to progressively realize the right to food. But in order to know what needs to be done, the current situation of a country, a district, a community or a sector needs to be understood. Only if we know whose right to food is not realized and why, and to what extent the legal, institutional and policy framework is conducive to progress on the right to food, an adequate response can be formulated. The whole process is called Right to Food Assessment.

An analysis of the country’s laws, policies and institutions helps to understand whether a government is on track in responding to the root causes of hunger and what measures need to be taken to address possible gaps. Without a solid and valid understanding of the root causes of hunger, targeted laws, policies and institutional regulations cannot be established that are conducive to the realization of the right to food. Therefore, a profound assessment of a legal, policy and institutional framework, provides sound evidence to improve country actions finalized to end hunger and malnutrition (SDG2), eradicate poverty everywhere in all forms (SDG1) and achieve gender equality (SDG5).

A useful starting point for a right to food assessment, is the analysis of a state’s legal framework and of international human rights obligations to which it has accepted to be a party of, or to fulfil by ratification. Such analysis allows to determine whether the legal setting is conducive for the progressive realization of the right to food, and therefore to establish whether its modification should be a priority for the country. International instruments to be taken into account include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Further, the question of how these international treaty obligations are validated in national law should also be addressed in order to understand how the right to food enshrined in international treaties is protected in the domestic sphere.

Another core element of an assessment is the identification of the food-insecure, vulnerable and marginalized groups and the underlying reasons for their deprivation.

The identification of these groups is important in order to measure the extent to which they are being reached and how they are affected by policy and programme measures. Individuals can be vulnerable to food insecurity for physiological (e.g. lactating mothers), economic (e.g. no access to natural resources) or political reasons (e.g. discrimination against certain ethnic groups). It is necessary to describe these groups in terms of location, demographic, socio-economic, and livelihood characteristics, and to understand why they suffer from hunger and malnutrition. This enables policy implementers to design well-targeted policy and programme measures that address the underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition effectively. Therefore, the analysis of the underlying and root causes of undernourishment will reveal the best entry points for the implementation of measures and actions to further the realization of the right to adequate food.

A further step is to analyse a country’s laws, policies and institutions to understand whether a government is on track in responding to the root causes of hunger and if there are any potential risks that could jeopardize the furthering of the right to adequate food. This will also provide knowledge of what measures need to be taken to address possible gaps. The assessment will furthermore provide understanding of the implementation processes and impacts of existing (or proposed) policy and programme measures as well as the needs for policy and programme re-design to facilitate the realization of the right to adequate food.

Finally, the right to food assessment is not only relevant to countries with acute food insecurity problems; food adequacy concerns, such as unhealthy life-styles that could lead to obesity, and marketing issues (e.g. labelling), are also relevant for developed countries.

The issue of assessment is well addressed in the Right to Food Guidelines specifically Guideline 17 dedicated to monitoring, indicators and benchmarks and also Guideline 3 on national strategies for the progressive realization of the right to adequate food. Useful guidance pertinent to the assessment work can also be found in Guideline 5 (“Institutions”), 12 (“National financial resources”) and 18 (“National Human Rights Institutions”).

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