SR on the Right to Food Delivers His Final Report to the Human Rights Council

Today, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter delivered his last report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. He held the post from 2008 until 2014, and has during that time published a number of important reports and observations on the necessity of switching over to a sustainable global food system based on environmentally benign production methods such as agroecology.

Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food addresses the Council of Human Rights. Image by UN Geneva, via Flickr CC.
Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, addresses the Council of Human Rights. Image by UN Geneva, via Flickr CC.

His report today focused on the need to strengthen both democracy and diversity in order to fix our food systems. During his presentation, he stressed that politics should be used to reach beyond the current system which singularly enables the maximization of agribusiness profits. Indeed, “objectives such as supplying diverse, culturally-acceptable foods to communities, supporting smallholders, sustaining soil and water resources, and raising food security within particularly vulnerable areas, must not be crowded out by the one-dimensional quest to produce more food.” He added:

“At the local, national and international levels, the policy environment must urgently accommodate alternative, democratically-mandated visions.”

De Schutter stressed that truly democratic food systems start at the local level, and that therefore local communities as well as cities should have the right – and indeed the responsibility – to determine the best way to ensure the right to – sufficient and culturally appropriate – food to all their constituents. National strategies are however necessary to support and enable these local decisions.

“Governments have a major role to play in bringing policies into coherence with the right to food, and ensuring that actions are effectively sequenced, but there is no single recipe.”

According to the Special Rapporteur, “in some cases, the priority will be to promote short circuits and direct producer-consumer links in order to strengthen local smallholder farming and reduce dependence on imports. In other cases, the prevailing need may be to strengthen cooperatives in order to sell to large buyers under dependable contracts. National right to food strategies should be co-designed by relevant stakeholders, in particular the groups most affected by hunger and malnutrition, and they should be supported by independent monitoring.

Finally, he also called on international organizations to create a global framework that allows national food security strategies to be implemented successfully and that provides particularly developing countries assistance in that realm. Furthermore, he drew attention to the dual responsibilities of developing and developed countries to each do their part in alleviating food insecurity:

“Other global governance bodies must align themselves with the strategic framework provided by the CFS. The WTO, for example, must not hinder developing countries undertaking ambitious food security policies and investing in small-holder agriculture. […] Wealthy countries must move away from export-driven agricultural policies and leave space instead for small-scale farmers in developing countries to supply local market. They must also restrain their expanding claims on global farmland by reining in the demand for animal feed and agrofuels, and by reducing food waste.”

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The USA Have A Farm Bill! Halle … Well … Yeah.

The USDA will begin to implement the Bill soon, provided it passes the Senate floor.

On Wednesday, as anticipated, the House of Representatives passed the Farm Bill after a 2 year impasse with 251 to 166 votes. The Democratic leadership of the Senate has already endorsed it, making it likely that it will pass the Senate floor as well in the coming week and be on President Obama’s desk soon. Media and lobby group reactions, as well as politicians’ own levels of satisfaction, were an extremely mixed bag. One frequently cited commentary came from Rep. Tim Walz (a Democrat from Minnesota):

“Of course it’s not perfect. If you want perfect, you’ll get that in heaven. This place is closer to hell, so this is a pretty good compromise that we have come up with.”

Let’s go through the main features, shall we?

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IF … Policymakers Would Listen to Civil Society?

This weekend, David Cameron hosted the G8 “Hunger Summit” in Northern Ireland, resulting in promises, pledges, praise – and a lot of backlash from African civil society, who this summit was supposed to help. What was the problem?

(the IF campaign actually had a really good promotion video.)

Prior to the summit, Cameron announced his goals – trade, taxes, and transparency – and stressed the continued importance of the G8, since “as eight countries making up around half of the world’s entire GDP, the standards we set, the commitments we make, and the steps we take can help solve vital global issues, fire up economies and drive prosperity all over the world.” He promised that this G8 would be different, though – “Too often, development at the G8 has been about rich countries doing things to poor countries. But at Lough Erne, we in the developed world will concentrate on issues that involve us putting our own house in order and helping developing countries to prosper.”

Rich countries doing things to poor countries indeed.

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India On the Verge to Legally Implement Right to Food

Here is a mind-boggling Sunday statistic for you: India is estimated to have more undernourished people than all of Sub-Saharan Africa combined. I had to re-read that sentence three times before really grasping its consequences. I think especially in academia, we are now so used to think of India as an “emerging economy”, a “model of growth”, so used to talk about its burgeoning IT sector and to see really smart Indian students join our universities that we forget about the fact that 43.5% of its children under the age of 5 are underweight, and that 19% of the total population is undernourished.

Hunger affects women and children to a particularly large extent in India.
Image by Yassin Parukapadath, via Flickr CC.

This may however be one of the reasons that my Google alerts to articles mentioning the “right to food” have recently been dominated by articles talking about India, since the country stands closely before a landmark legislation that translates the human right to food into concrete policy.

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