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Lawrence Haddad: It is too easy to say “of course, I am for rights in the SDGs", but then to not pay much attention to them

Experts' corner - 29.04.2021

29 April 2021, Brighton/Rome- Since last September, Action Track 1 of the UN Food Systems Summit (FSS) has surfaced numerous propositions to transform food systems coming from a broad range of perspectives, through open forums, public surveys for game-changing solutions and community platform.

In this interview, FAO asked Dr. Lawrence Haddad, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition Executive Director and FSS Action Track 1 Chair, why and how the Summit is making space for the right to adequate food. He argues that a holistic view is needed and calls for greater attention to human rights, including stronger monitoring and looking at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicators that explicitly mention rights.

The first wave of proposals has generated a large number of ideas that reflect the diversity and creativity of the different stakeholders. Among them, which emerging areas can help join efforts in view of improving access to healthy and nutritious diets for every one?

Lawrence Haddad: In a systems framing to improve access to safe and nutritious foods, one has to look at actions in all areas: production, procurement, processing, storage and distribution, food environments, demand creation etc. They all build on each other.  They are all links in the chain, and the chain is only as strong as the weakest link.

"One has to look at actions in all areas [..]. 
They are all links in the chain,
and the chain is only as strong as the weakest link".

On production, there are several ideas, but most revolve around producing more nutritious food that is available and affordable, reduces greenhouse gas (GHG), promotes sustainable management of land and water, combine applications of nitrogen and phosphorus, promotes biodiversity, generates decent livelihoods and builds resilience. Research and development tends to be dominated by the three big staples (rice, wheat and maize), and too little goes into millet, sorghum, fruits, vegetables and tree crops, for instance.

On procurement, we need governments to create more tangible demand platforms and purchasing commitments for nutritious foods by incorporating these foods into their school feeding, social protection, safety net and health systems provisioning. This sends powerful signals to farmers and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the local food system. Too often, food based dietary guidelines target only consumers, when they also need to address government procurement and government policy more broadly. Chile and others are providing game changing examples of procurement models that work for safe and nutritious foods.

On processing, we have to find ways to preserve nutrients. For instance, keeping out much of the added sugars, transfats and salt; applying low-cost drying methods and using small scale technology; adding iron, zinc and vitamin a and d in fortification; or issuing regulation on transfats. There is a game changer on new business certification that incorporates more food system concerns in addition to the traditional environmental, social and governance dimensions.

On storage and distribution, the Cool Coalition is working on scaling an interesting model for sustainable cool chains that works for smallholders and can be used both for food and medicines, while employing a circular economy model (no cold box should travel anywhere empty).

On food environments, there is work on labelling that is simpler and combines health and environment messaging, on safe spaces in the workforce for breastfeeding, and on retail outlets that incentivise healthy foods through pricing promotions and positioning of foods in the store.

On demand creation there is work on campaigns to create demand for healthy diets, especially with youth, for example the #Act4Food, #Act4Change youth pledge which is a potential game changer, with 1 million youth planed to be signed up by the time of the Summit and more than 100 million by 2030.

It is not always an easy task to generate synergies between concrete initiatives that set ideas in motion and a holistic vision that facilitates an integration action plan. Do you think a human rights-based approach and, particularly the right to adequate food, can contribute to reconcile these two trends?

LH:  For me, human rights and the right to adequate food stipulate that all concrete initiatives must be human-centric, must work for the most vulnerable, need to amplify agency and voice, promote participation, rebalance power, and strengthen accountability. 

"Human rights and the right to adequate food
stipulate that all concrete
initiatives must be human-centric".

The game changers in all Action Tracks (AT) were developed in this frame. They try to change these dynamics.  AT1 and 3 focus a lot on empowering farmers, AT4 and 5 focus a lot on empowering those who work in the food system and those who are affected by hunger and AT2 focuses a lot on empowering consumers.   

All ATs focus on accountability: for example, AT1 is working with FAO on indicators that signal rights violations more clearly, AT2 is tracking food loss and waste more accurately, AT3 is working on soil metrics, AT4 on decent wages and conditions, AT5 on duty bearer capacity to respond to crisis. All ATs are working on the true cost of food to hold those accountable who are generating large health, climate, environment and job externalities. Finally all ATs are working on an independent Countdown to 2030 Report which will hold all stakeholders accountable for commitments they make at the Summit.

"All ATs are working on the true cost of food
to hold those accountable
who are generating large health, climate,
environment and job externalities".

The human right to adequate food extends to a multitude of complementary dimensions which points out towards a bigger picture. How can this cross-cutting perspective be taken into consideration in the fight against hunger and malnutrition, and how can this be incorporated in other areas to achieve sustainable development?

I am struck by the seeming randomness of the appearance of “rights” in the SDG indicators. There are several indicators in the SDG indicator list that explicitly mention rights (see: 1.4.2, 4.7.2, 5.a.1, 5.a.2, 8.8.2, 10.3.1, 10.6.1, 14.b.1, 16.a.1, 16.b.1, 16.8.1, and 16.10.1), but not, disappointingly, in SDG2.  

We always say rights are indivisible, you cannot pick and choose which ones to protect, respect, and facilitate.  And yet, this does not seem to be the case in the SDGs, where we have chosen which to leave in and out. 

"I am struck  by the seeming randomness of the
appearance of “rights” in the SDG indicators.  
Data alone will not change that, but it is a tangible start".

For the indicators that have kept rights in, the least we can do is develop a dashboard of rights indicators which we can look across the SDGs by countries to see which rights are being upheld and which are not.  It is too easy to say “yes, of course, I am for rights in the food system and the SDGs”, but then to not pay much attention to them. Data alone will not change that, but it is a tangible start.

About Dr. Lawrence Haddad

Dr Lawrence Haddad became the Executive Director of GAIN in 2016. Prior to this, Lawrence was the founding co-chair and lead author of the Global Nutrition Report from 2014 to 2016. From 2004 to 2014, he was the Director of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). From 1994 to 2004, he was Director of the Food Consumption and Nutrition Division at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). From 2009 to 2010, he was the UK representative on the Steering Committee of the High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS). From 2010 to 2012, he was the President of the UK and Ireland’s Development Studies Association. An economist, Lawrence completed his PhD in Food Research at Stanford University in 1988. 

The World Food Prize Foundation awarded the 2018 World Food Prize to Lawrence Haddad, and David Nabarro, former Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General.

Coming together to share reflections

Everyone is encouraged to contribute to the Summit. There are many ways to get involved, such as participating in a Public Dialogue. These are fora for learning and conversations to explore pathways to sustainable food systems.

The third Public Forum of AT 1 will be held next May 4, and it will focus on the role UN Member States can play in relation to the game-changing ideas.

The third Public Forum of AT 4 took place on April 26, whose opening presentation was delivered by Juan Carlos García y Cebolla, FAO Right to Food Team Leader.  He highlighted that making real a human rights-based approach needs a monitoring process as well as both human and financial resources. Only in that way it is possible to determine whether projects, policies and programmes are progressing, and therefore to ensure that commitments towards the right to adequate food are put in action effectively.


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