In a recent report, excerpts of which we are publishing below, Olivier de Schutter , the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, underlines the rise of a global right-to-food movement, a distinctive drive in the past few years. In a context of extreme instability, the movement is increasingly aware of the strategic scope of food security, and ultimately of agriculture, and the need to implement pertinent policies.
As pointed out by the United Nations Rapporteur, fighting food insecurity also entails a combination of multi-sectorial policies––regarding agriculture, healthcare, trade and social security––leading to the implementation of emergency and long-term participatory, comprehensive and transparent food strategies. Olivier de Schutter highlights some winning approaches such as Brazil’s “Zero Hunger”, a program that addresses four issues: Easing access to adequate food, supporting agriculture, advancing income-generating activities and promoting social participation.
However, this strategic vision of food security must not be a challenge limited to developing countries, but must also be adopted by industrialized nations, for which maintaining the agriculture and agro-food sectors stands for economic, social and political stability.
In the end, it will be very difficult to permanently eradicate world hunger without an approach coordinated between the various nations of the planet, and including the many facets of food security. This is why momagri has been working, since its creation, toward a genuine governance system for global agriculture and food.
momagri Editorial Board
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommends that States parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights work towards “the adoption of a national strategy to ensure food and nutrition security for all, based on human rights principles that define the objectives, and the formulation of policies and corresponding benchmarks”. Similarly, Guideline 3 of the FAO Right to Food Guidelines encourages the adoption of “a national human-rights based strategy for the progressive realization of the right to adequate food … [which] could include objectives, targets, benchmarks and time frames; and actions to formulate policies, identify and mobilize resources, define institutional mechanisms, allocate responsibilities, coordinate the activities of different actors, and provide for monitoring mechanisms”.
Such strategies fulfil three key functions. First, they identify the measures to be adopted, assigning responsibilities across different departments and imposing deadlines. This increases accountability: failure to deliver will be noticed and will be imputable to specific bodies that will be called upon to justify lack of implementation; and monitoring by independent bodies, including courts, national human rights institutions or food and nutrition security councils, is facilitated. Such monitoring and evaluation of food security policies ensure permanent feedback and thus learning from experience, so that the policies are constantly improved in the light of successes and failures in implementation.
Second, they allow for a whole-of-government approach, in which various policies in the areas of health care, education, employment and social protection, agriculture and rural development are coordinated. This favours the identification of synergies among programmes that fall under the responsibility of different departments, such as school-feeding programmes that source from local small-scale producers or food-for-work programmes that improve rural infrastructures. This coordinating function is also important in States with a federal structure, to improve alignment among policies pursued at different levels of government: in Mexico, one of the tasks of the Interministerial Commission for the Implementation of the Crusade against Hunger is to promote integrated agreements between entities at the federal and municipal level. Similarly, in an increasing number of States, food policy councils are being established at the local level, either at the initiative of municipalities or by citizens. These multi-stakeholder councils have a key role to fulfil in democratizing the food systems and in identifying synergies among different policy sectors at the local level: national-level strategies can support this by ensuring that such local-level initiatives are strengthened, rather than undermined, by various sectoral policies.
Third, multi-year strategies make it possible to combine short-term approaches (that prioritize access to food for the hungry) and long-term concerns (removing the structural causes of hunger), building bridges across them. This is especially important where, as is often the case for low-income countries, years of underinvestment in agriculture has led them to increase their dependency on food imports and food aid, leading to a vicious cycle in which imports and aid discourage local production, which in turn increases dependency, increasing vulnerability in a context of higher and more volatile prices on international markets. Such countries must gradually reinvest in local production and social protection, but the transition from a high dependency on food aid and imports must be managed across time: a multi-year strategy facilitates the management of such a transition.
Providing such a predictable framework is essential to attract investors and to allow the private sector to adapt to what the strategy entails. It is also important for public programmes to bridge the gap between short-term and ad hoc approaches and longer-term objectives. For instance, it has been found that school-feeding programmes work best when they are part of multi-year strategies, with predictable and secured funding. This favours investment in local food producers supplying the programme and in the skills required to implement it, including cooking skills that must be mobilized within schools or community kitchens serving schools.
The right to food movement
Branches of government
The increasing recognition of the importance of a legal and policy framework grounded in the right to food reflects a growing understanding that hunger is not simply a problem of supply and demand, but primarily a problem of a lack of access to productive resources such as land and water for small-scale food producers; limited economic opportunities for the poor, including through employment in the formal sector; a failure to guarantee living wages to all those who rely on waged employment to buy their food; and gaps in social protection.
The remarkable success of Brazil in reducing child malnutrition rates over the past 15 years bears witness to the power of strategies such as “Zero Hunger” and participatory approaches. Beyond that example, recent research shows that countries that have made significant progress in reducing malnutrition present a number of common characteristics. First, they sought to adopt a multisectoral approach to combating hunger and malnutrition. Their strategies combined attention to agriculture, with the mainstreaming of nutrition in health-care policies, and coordinated policies in the areas of education, gender, water, sanitation and habitat, pro-poor economic development (both through employment and income generation for the poor and through social development), and trade. Second, in almost all cases, the political impetus at the highest level of government was a key factor. Change was achieved after Governments placed food and nutrition security at the top of the political agenda and adopted strategies specifically aimed at combating hunger and poverty. Third, civil society participation and empowerment were essential, contributing to the sustainability of policies across time and improving their acceptance and impact among affected populations. Fourth, multiphased approaches were the most effective, as allowed by multi-year national strategies combining both short-term interventions and long-term approaches to nutrition. Fifth, the establishment of institutions monitoring progress ensured that the political pressure remained present throughout the implementation phase of the strategy and that the resources were. Sixth, the continuity of financial investment from national resources, supplemented with external matching funds, was vital: one-time efforts, over short periods, failed to achieve significant impact.
These are the ingredients of success that approaches grounded in the right to food provide. All branches of government — legislative, executive and judiciary — have a responsibility to contribute to this implementation. As illustrated by the range of examples above, the protection of the right to food requires a legislative framework, policies implementing food security strategies, and enforcement through judicial means. Yet, even that may not suffice. Various veto points may make it difficult for political systems to create the requisite conditions for accountability.
The poor are often a constituency that matters less to politicians. The poor may experience considerable difficulties in accessing judicial redress mechanisms, which is why social audits matter.
1 The full report is available from: http://www.srfood.org/images/stories/pdf/officialreports/20131025_rtf_en.pdf