Independent UN expert urges legal reforms to boost right to food

14 May 2010

The right to food has gained significant recognition in Africa, Asia, Latin America and South Asia, but more national institutional reforms are needed to ensure that the fight against hunger is rooted in legal mechanisms, a United Nations expert has said.

“Boosting food production should not be confused with realizing the human right to food,” said Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. “If the international community is willing to reinvest in agriculture, the real question today is not ‘how much,’ but ‘how,’” he stated in a briefing note released today.

“We tend to forget that in the fight against hunger, processes and institutions are as vital as new seeds; legal frameworks as necessary as agricultural investments; and participatory institutions as impactful in the long term as bags of fertilizers,” Mr De Schutter said in his review of progress made by countries in implementing the human right to food at the national level.

The review is published as UN agencies prepare themselves to update the Comprehensive Framework of Action on food, which was adopted in July 2008 as an immediate reaction to the global food price crisis. The UN High-Level Task Force for the Global Food Crisis has organized consultations in Dublin on Monday and Tuesday next week to update the Framework.

“There has been very significant progress in a number of countries,” said Mr. De Schutter. “The right to food is now alive in 24 national constitutions. It has been given concrete meaning through national framework laws, courts, and participatory bodies,” he added.

“It [right to food] has an influence on some land or fishing policies, on coordination among ministries, and the use of public resources. These are key steps for lasting progress, and they are totally different from the classic recipe of increasing food production,” Mr. De Schutter said.

The review gives several examples of successful initiatives that have upheld the right to food.

In South Africa, traditional fishermen went to court after they lost their fishing rights due to new governmental fisheries policies. In 2007 the Government and the fishermen agreed to an order by the South African Equality Court requiring both parties to develop a new policy and legislative framework to accommodate and recognize the socio-economic rights and the right to equitable marine resources of traditional fishermen.

In Brazil, continuous progress is being made since the launch of the “Zero Hunger” strategy in 2003, according to Mr. De Schutter. Since last year, a minimum of 30 per cent of the food purchased under the school-feeding programme should come, by law, from small family farms and indigenous communities, and for the fiscal year 2009, more than €313 million was budgeted for purchases from family farms, including indigenous communities.

The strategy has also helped to achieve significant reductions in child mortality rates in Brazil, where they have dropped by 73 per cent since 2002.

In India, following a case filed in 2001 before the Supreme Court, mid-day meal schemes now have almost universal coverage, benefiting more than 118 million Indian children who attend primary school.

“These institutional developments are crucial in the fight against hunger, since they transform victims who are to be helped into rights-holders to whom governments are accountable,” said Mr. De Schutter.

“However, much progress still needs to be made. Interesting practices have now been identified, and they should be pursued and scaled up, including via international cooperation,” he added.


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