Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

Olivier De Schutter, a United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has recently presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council. The Rapporteur called for the world’s food system to be radically and democratically redesigned. (SRFOOD.ORG, 2014). In the final report, Olivier De Schutter presents his main conclusions and a summary of recommendations issued over the course of his mandate as Special Rapporteur (2008-2014).

According to the Special Rapporteur, “the right to food is the right of every individual, alone or in community with others, to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations.1 Individuals can secure access to food (a) by earning incomes from employment or self-employment; (b) through social transfers; or (c) by producing their own food, for those who have access to land and other productive resources.”

To download and read the final report, click here.

To download and read the final report in Spanish, click here and for French, click here.

The following is a summary from the final Report on the right to food/ (Adopted from Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter).

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.

 The following are few excerpts from the key recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur in past thematic reports, from 2008 to 2013, to the Human Rights Council:

A. Ensuring access to resources

1. Access to land

 In a context in which commercial pressures on land are increasing, it is crucial that States strengthen the protection of land users (A/65/281) and implement the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land and other Natural Resources. In particular, States should:

(a) Ensure security of tenure, by adopting anti-eviction laws and improving the regulatory framework concerning expropriation;

(b) Conduct decentralized mapping of various users’ land rights and strengthen customary systems of tenure;

(c) Adopt tenancy laws to protect tenants from eviction and from excessive levels of rent;

(d) Respect the rights of special groups, such as indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, herders and pastoralists, for whom the protection of commons is vital;

(e) Prioritize development models that do not lead to evictions, disruptive shifts in land rights and increased land concentration, and ensure that all land investment projects are consistent with relevant obligations under international human rights law (A/HRC/13/33/Add.2);

(f) Refrain from criminalizing the non-violent occupation of land by movements of landless people;

(g) Implement redistributive land reform where a high degree of land ownership concentration is combined with a significant level of rural poverty attributable to landlessness or to the cultivation of excessively small plots of land by smallholders, and supporting beneficiaries of land redistribution to ensure that they can make a productive use of their land; and

(h) Regulate land markets to prevent the impacts of speculation on land concentration and distress sales by indebted farmers.

2. Seeds

Guaranteeing food security in the future requires that we support crop genetic diversity, including agro-biodiversity (A/64/170). This is particularly important for small-scale farmers in developing countries, who still overwhelmingly rely on seeds which they save from their own crops and which they donate, exchange or sell. In order to ensure that the A/HRC/25/57 22 development of the intellectual property rights regime and the implementation of seed policies at the national level are compatible with the right to food, States should:

(a) Make swift progress towards the implementation of farmers’ rights, as defined in article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture;

(b) Not allow patents on plants and establish research exemptions in legislation protecting plant breeders’ rights;

(c) Ensure that their seed regulations (seed certification schemes) do not lead to an exclusion of farmers’ varieties; and

(d) Support and scale up local seed exchange systems such as community seed banks and seed fairs, and community registers of peasant varieties. Donors and international institutions should assist States in implementing the above recommendations, and, in particular:

(a) Support efforts by developing countries to establish a sui generis regime for the protection of intellectual property rights which suits their development needs and is based on human rights;

(b) Fund breeding projects on a large diversity of crops, including orphan crops, as well as on varieties for complex agro-environments such as dry regions, and encourage participatory plant breeding;

(c) Channel an adequate proportion of funds towards research programmes and projects that aim at improving the whole agricultural system and not only the plant (agroforestry, better soil management techniques, composting, water management, good agronomic practices).

3. Fisheries

It is urgent that States move towards sustainable resource use while ensuring that the rights and livelihoods of small-scale fishers and coastal communities are respected and that the food security of all groups depending on fish is improved (A/67/268).

B. Supporting local food systems

1. Reinvestment in agriculture

Reinvestment in agriculture and rural development should effectively contribute to the realization of the right to food (A/HRC/12/31). In order to achieve this important goal, the international community should:

(a) Channel adequate support to sustainable farming approaches that benefit the most vulnerable groups and that are resilient to climate change;

(b) Prioritize the provision of public goods, such as storage facilities, extension services, means of communications, access to credit and insurance and agricultural research;

(c) In countries facing important levels of rural poverty and in the absence of employment opportunities in other sectors, establish and promote farming systems that are sufficiently labor-intensive to contribute to employment creation (A/HRC/13/33/Add.2); and

(d) Ensure that investment agreements contribute to reinforcing local livelihood options and to environmentally sustainable modes of agricultural production.

2. Agro-ecology: Moving towards sustainable modes of agricultural production is vital for future food security and an essential component of the right to food. Agro-ecology has enormous potential in that regard (A/HRC/13/33/Add.2).

3. Support small-holder farmers: The realization of the right to food for all will require proactively engaging in public policies aimed at expanding the choices of smallholders to sell their products at a decent price (A/HRC/13/33). To achieve this, States should:

(a) Strengthen local and national markets and support continued diversification of channels of trading and distribution;

(b) Support the establishment of farmers’ cooperatives and other producer organizations (A/66/262); A/HRC/25/57 24

(c) Establish or defend flexible and efficient producer marketing boards under government authority but with the strong participation of producers in their governance;

(d) Encourage preferential sourcing from small-scale farmers through fiscal incentives or by making access to public procurement schemes conditional on the bidders’ compliance with certain sourcing requirements.

4. Contract Farming: To ensure that contract farming and other business models support the right to food (A/66/262), Governments should ensure that regulatory oversight keeps pace with the level of the expansion and the complexity of business models.

5. Agricultural workers: To guarantee that those working on farms can be guaranteed a living wage, adequate health and safe conditions of employment (A/HRC/13/33)

C. Deploying national strategies

1. National Strategies: States should build national strategies for the realization of the right to adequate food, which should include mapping of the food- insecure, adoption of relevant legislation and policies with a right-to-food framework, establishment of mechanisms to ensure accountability, and the establishment of mechanisms and processes which ensure real participation of rights-holders, particularly the most vulnerable, in designing and monitoring such legislation and policies (A/68/268).

2. Human Rights Impact Assessments: To ensure consistency between domestic policies aimed at the full realization of the right to food and external policies in the areas of trade, investment, development and humanitarian aid, States should establish mechanisms that ensure that the right to food is fully taken into account in those policies. The Special Rapporteur has presented Guiding Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessments, based on a range of consultations with governmental and non-governmental actors, which provide guidance as to how to conduct such assessments, both ex-ante and ex-post (A/HRC/19/59/Add.5).

3. Women’s Rights:

 In order to strengthen the protection of the right to food of women (A/HRC/22/50), States should:

 (a) Remove all discriminatory provisions in the law, combat discrimination that has its source in social and cultural norms, and use temporary special measures to accelerate the achievement of gender equality;

(b) Recognize the need to accommodate the specific time and mobility constraints on women as a result of the existing gender roles, while at the same time redistributing the gender roles by a transformative approach to employment and social protection;

(c) Mainstream a concern for gender in all laws, policies and programs, where appropriate, by developing incentives that reward public administrations which make progress in setting and reaching targets in this regard;

(d) Adopt multi-sector and multi-year strategies that move towards full equality for women, under the supervision of an independent body to monitor progress, relying on gender-disaggregated data in all areas relating to the achievement of food security.

4. Social Protection:

 The provision of social protection can substantially contribute to the realization of the right to food (A/68/268, A/HRC/12/31).

5. Nutrition: To reshape food systems for the promotion of sustainable diets and effectively combat the different faces of malnutrition (A/HRC/19/59), States should:

(a) Adopt statutory regulation on the marketing of food products, as the most effective way to reduce marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, sodium and sugar (HFSS foods) to children, and restrict marketing of these foods to other groups;

(b) Impose taxes on soft drinks (sodas), and on HFSS foods, in order to subsidize access to fruits and vegetables and educational campaigns on healthy diets;

(c) Adopt a plan for the complete replacement of trans-fatty acids with polyunsaturated fats;

(d) Review the existing systems of agricultural subsidies, in order to take into account the public health impacts of current allocations, and use public procurement schemes for school-feeding programmes and for other public institutions to support the provision of locally sourced, nutritious foods; and

(e) Transpose into domestic legislation the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and the WHO recommendations on the marketing of breast-milk substitutes and of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, and ensure their effective enforcement.

The private sector should:

(a) Comply fully with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, and comply with the WHO recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, even where local enforcement is weak or non-existent;

(b) Abstain from imposing nutrition-based interventions where local ecosystems and resources are able to support sustainable diets, and systematically ensure that such interventions prioritize local solutions;

(c) Shift away from the supply of HFSS foods and towards healthier foods and phase out the use of trans-fatty acids in food processing.

D. Shaping an enabling international

1. Food price volatility: The international community should find ways to better manage the risks associated with international trade and ensure that least-developed and net food-importing developing countries are better protected from the volatility of international market prices.

2. A new framework for trade and investment in agriculture

The realization of the right to food requires designing trade rules that support the transition toward more sustainable agricultural practices. The multilateral trade regime as well as regional and bilateral trade agreements must allow countries to develop and implement ambitious food security policies including public food reserves, temporary import restrictions, active marketing boards, and safety net insurance schemes, in support of the progressive realization of the right to food (A/HRC/10/5/Add.2).

3. Regulating agribusiness

States should take steps towards the establishment of a multilateral framework regulating the activities of commodity buyers, processors, and retailers in the global food supply chain, including the setting of standards by these actors and their buying policies (A/HRC/13/33). In particular, States should use competition law in order to combat excessive concentration in the agribusiness sector. This requires having in place competition regimes sensitive to excessive buyer power in the agri-food sector, and devising competition authorities with mechanisms that allow for affected suppliers to bring complaints without fear of reprisal by dominant buyers.

4. Agro-fuels

The international community should reach a consensus on agro-fuels, based not only on the need to avoid the negative impact of the development of agro-fuels on the international price of staple food commodities, but also on the need to ensure that the production of agro-fuels respects the full range of human rights and does not result in distorted development in producer countries. Public incentives for the production of crop-based bio-fuels must be reduced and eventually removed, while only those advanced bio-fuels that do not compete with food production for land or other resources should be incentivized.

5. Food aid and development cooperation:

 International aid remains an important component of the right to food (A/HRC/10/5). Donor States should:

(a) Maintain and increase levels of aid calculated as Official Development Assistance as a percentage of GDP;

(b) Provide food aid on the basis of an objective assessment of the identified needs in developing countries;

(c) Fully respect the principle of ownership in their development cooperation policies by aligning these policies with national strategies for the realization of the right to food;

(d) Promote the right to food as a priority for development cooperation

To watch a related YouTube Video on Food Sovereignty Dialogue, click here.

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