The transformative potential of the right to food
Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food
“The WTO remains trapped within a very twentieth century idea (...) an idea that considers agriculture a commodity like any other (...). The WTO must change its model as other international organisations have changed”.
Olivier de Schutter did not mince his words on 11th March during the public presentation of his final report, which marks the end of his term (April 2014) that began in 2008 during a full-blown food crisis. The improvement of global governance is no longer an option but a necessity for food security and agriculture, just as the right to food is not a magic word, the mere mention of which is sufficient to change the course of things, and agriculture yet another commodity to be manipulated on international markets.
Despite real progress, the objectives of poverty reduction and the fight against food insecurity and food price volatility are far from being achieved. Olivier de Schutter, in his report, of which we have reproduced an extract here1, denounces the lack of monitoring of the commitments made by States and finally highlights the lack of political will.
Encouraging the implementation of institutions and a governance favourable to food and food security are, more than ever, crucial goals to be attained. To meet these goals, momagri is calling for the creation of a World Agricultural Security Council modelled on the UN’s Security Council, in order to anticipate and cope with food crises through enhanced international cooperation.
momagri Editorial Board
Shaping an enabling international environment
The progressive realization of the right to food also requires improving global governance. Since its reform in 2009, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has been making a major contribution to the global food security agenda. The Special Rapporteur actively participated in this process as a member of the “Friends of the Chair” during the reform phase, and later as a member of the CFS Advisory Group. Perhaps the most immediate success of CFS is the fact that it brings together such a wide variety of stakeholders – governments, of course, but also civil society, international agencies and the private sector – who each provide a different framing of the challenges that the food systems face, thus stimulating a process of collective learning across different constituencies.
The role of CFS should gain in importance in the future, as we become more aware of the interdependence of efforts at the local, national, regional and global levels, and of the need to accelerate learning. Indeed, just as local-level initiatives cannot succeed without support from national-level right-to-food strategies, efforts at the domestic level require international support to bear fruit. Together with the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, the Special Rapporteur has argued, for instance, for the establishment of a Global Fund for Social Protection, for overcoming financial obstacles and building international solidarity in order to fulfil the right to food and the right to social protection in developing countries, particularly those where vulnerability to covariant risks such as drought and food price volatility are high.
The initiative was presented at the thirty-ninth plenary session of CFS in October 2012, and to the Social Protection Inter-Agency Cooperation Board, as well as in various other forums. The proposal was supported by the European Parliament and was among the key recommendations that emerged from global consultations led by the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
The ninth Ministerial Conference of WTO, held in Bali, Indonesia, from 3 to 7 December 2013, which failed to place food security above trade concerns, provides a textbook illustration of the need to improve coherence of global governance for the realization of the right to food: no area, not even trade, should be left aside from discussions concerning this paramount objective.The redefinition of the global development goals provides another opportunity to move towards this objective. In the outcome document of the Rio+20 Conference, entitled “The future we want”, Heads of State and Government reaffirmed their “commitments regarding the right of everyone to have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger.”
In its final report of May 2013, the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda proposed to include ensuring “food security and good nutrition” among the universal goals and targets to be agreed, with target 5 (a) referring to ending hunger and protecting the right of everyone to have access to sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious food. Similar conclusions emerged from the Madrid High-level Consultation on Hunger, Food Security and Nutrition in the Post-2015 Development Framework, convened on 4 April 2013. At its fortieth plenary session, building on this emerging consensus, CFS highlighted “the essential role of food security and nutrition and poverty eradication in the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda”, and it mandated its Bureau to ensure this key objective would be reflected in this agenda.
Indeed, it is now time to move from generous intentions to action. The eradication of hunger and extreme poverty is now placed at the top of the political agenda, and through the new sustainable development goals, monitoring will be strengthened at a global level. Grounding these efforts explicitly in the right to food will encourage all the actors involved in the implementation of these goals to acknowledge their duties towards those who are marginalized economically and politically disempowered, and to address the political economy of food systems – in other terms, the question of who decides, on the basis of what information, and under which accountability mechanisms.
The eradication of hunger and malnutrition is an achievable goal. Reaching it requires, however, that we move away from business as usual and improve coordination across sectors, across time and across levels of governance. Empowering communities at the local level, in order for them to identify the obstacles that they face and the solutions that suit them best, is a first step. This must be complemented by supportive policies at the national level that ensure the right sequencing between the various policy reforms that are needed, across all relevant sectors, including agriculture, rural development, health, education and social protection. In turn, local-level and national-level policies should benefit from an enabling international environment, in which policies that affect the ability of countries to guarantee the right to food – in the areas of trade, food aid, foreign debt alleviation and development cooperation – are realigned with the imperative of achieving food security and ensuring adequate nutrition. Understood as a requirement for democracy in the food systems, which would imply the possibility for communities to choose which food systems to depend on and how to reshape those systems, food sovereignty is a condition for the full realization of the right to food. But it is the paradox of an increasingly interdependent world that this requires deepening the cooperation between States.
1 The original publication can be found at http://www.srfood.org/images/stories/pdf/officialreports/20140310_finalreport_en.pdf