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Philippines must prioritize food and nutrition security, says UN expert on right to food

MANILA (27 February 2015) – Access to sufficient and nutritious food is still limited in the Philippines despite recent progress, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, warned today at the end of her first fact-finding mission* to the country. Ms. Elver urged the Filipino Government to develop “a clear and comprehensive policy that promotes the right to adequate food.”

“While the Filipino economy has shown impressive growth in recent years, access to adequate and nutritious food continues to be a challenge across most of the country both in terms of under and over nutrition,” she said, stressing that “child malnutrition is an issue of serious concern with some four million children in the country suffering from stunted growth.”

The human rights expert cautioned that “the effects of under-nutrition are irreversible, and lack of access to adequate and nutritious food is having a detrimental effect on future generations in the Philippines and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

“While some parts of the country are being transformed, high levels of poverty remain in the country and is becoming entrenched not only in rural areas but also in urban centres as the income gap widens and inequality increases,” Ms. Elver noted.

The rights expert expressed concern about small holder farmers, many of who are currently face increasing challenges that are undermining agricultural production, including deforestation, climate change and an ever expanding monoculture for export and large corporations.

“Landless farmers are particularly vulnerable as they await the passing of a Bill on agrarian reform which has been pending for some 25 years,” she said. “The Bill is laudable; however I am concerned at reports suggesting that huge tracts of land remain in the possession of a few, while those farmers who have tilled and worked the land are allegedly being harassed and criminalised.”

As communities affected by the devastating impact of typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda gradually begin to recover, the rights expert called on the Government to develop adaptation and mitigation financing and support to urban poor, small farmers and coastal communities who are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

“The Government of the Philippines has declared its commitment to developing a national framework for ensuring the right to adequate food and I commend the efforts made to date to develop policies to ensure food security,” the Special Rapporteur noted. “The passing of the pending Right to Adequate Food Bill should be considered as a matter of priority.”

During her seven-day mission, Ms. Elver met with senior Government officials and representatives of Parliamentary committees, international organizations, development agencies, academia and a range of civil society and grass root organizations. She also visited a number of projects in Nueva Ecija, Luzon and interacted with communities living in Visayas, Tacloban as well as urban poor living in various locations in Metro Manila.

The UN Special Rapporteur addressed some key findings and recommendations during a press conference today that will be further developed in a report to the Human Rights Council in March 2016.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15619&LangID=E

Hilal Elver (Turkey) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food by the Human Rights Council in 2014. She is a Research Professor, and co-director of the Project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy housed at the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has a law degree, a Ph.D. from the University of Ankara Law School, and SJD from the UCLA Law School. She started her teaching career at the University of Ankara Faculty of Law. Learn more: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Food/Pages/FoodIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

OHCHR Country Page – Philippines: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/PHIndex.aspx

For more information and press inquiries, please contact:
In Manila (during the visit): Teresa Debuque (+ 632 3367720 to 22 / debuque@un.org)
In Geneva (before and after the visit): Orlagh McCann (+41 22 917 9215 / srfood@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en