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Govts urged to recognise the right to affordable food

A boy suffering from malnutrition is treated at a stabilization centre July 2008 in Chinchinto, southern Ethiopia. According to MSF 11,800 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition have been admitted in the Oromiya and Southern Nations and Nationa Siegfried Modola/IRIN

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has called on governments to draw up national laws obliging them to take action when there is a threat of famine or food insecurity.

"The right to food, which falls under economic, social and cultural rights, should be given as much importance as any other civil or political right," Olivier De Schutter, the special rapporteur told IRIN. Only South Africa and India have strong laws on paper related to economic and social rights, he added. South Africa has the right to sufficient food and water enshrined in its constitution.

Governments have to be made accountable, said De Schutter. Adopting laws on food rights "should provide recourse mechanisms to victims [of food insecurity]... For instance, governments should be obliged in such cases to deliver food available in reserves, or to provide cash transfers to allow the poorest to purchase food, or expand cash-for-work or food-for-work programmes".

De Schutter's proposal is contained in a report: 'Building resilience: A human rights framework for world food and nutrition security'. The report was presented to the UN General Assembly recently.

Recourse mechanisms could vary from country to country, he said. "It could be courts, human rights commissions or an ombudsperson."

''Food insecurity is less a matter of quantities of food produced than of who has access to the food available, and under what conditions, i.e. the question is one of accessibility and purchasing power, not only of availability and volumes''
The global food price crisis has helped to put pressure on governments to improve access to food.

De Schutter said that "Food insecurity is less a matter of quantities of food produced than of who has access to the food available, and under what conditions, i.e. the question is one of accessibility and purchasing power, not only of availability and volumes".

Even if food production were to double by 2050, the global population is expected to hit 9.2 billion, and the increased output would "not explicitly tackle malnutrition, which affects two billion people in the world who suffer from micronutrient deficiency".

The problem essentially is about poverty and the lack of purchasing power, according to De Schutter. "We need to produce food in order to raise not just the supply of food, but also the purchasing power of those who produce it".

De Schutter has urged governments to draw up national strategies to help:

  • identify, at the earliest stage possible, emerging threats to the right to adequate food, by adequate monitoring systems;
  • assess the impact of new legislative initiatives or policies on the right to adequate food;
  • improve coordination between relevant ministries and between the national and subnational levels of government, taking into account the impact on the right to adequate food, in its nutritional dimensions, of measures taken in the areas of health, education, access to water and sanitation, and information;
  • improve accountability, with a clear allocation of responsibilities, and the setting of precise time frames for the realisation of the dimensions of the right to food that require progressive implementation;
  • ensure the adequate participation, particularly of the most food-insecure segments of the population, in planning strategies.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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