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Mission to Benin of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food

20 March 2009

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food focused his visit on the situation of three vulnerable groups in relation to the right to food: small farmers, urban poor, and detainees. The first group, the largest in terms of size, deserves particular attention. The Special Rapporteur highlights that the agricultural revitalization should achieve not only an increase in total production thus allowing the country to be less dependent on imports due to a diversification gained from food crops, but in particular it should lead to an improvement in the enjoyment of the right to food of the most vulnerable, among whom are the small farmers, including farm labourers. The situation of women and their access to productive resources should also be a priority. Land reform will have an important impact on these groups. Their situation should also be taken into account when evaluating Benin’s entry into regional and international markets. Finally, the strengthening of the social security net, in order to guarantee the right to food for the urban poor, will likely require assistance from the international community.

The Special Rapporteur conducted an official mission to Benin from 11-20 March 2009, examining the obstacles which prevent the full realization of this right in Benin. The Special Rapporteur expressed his full gratitude to the government of Benin for its excellent cooperation during his visit.

The Special Rapporteur welcomes the significant efforts by the government to strengthen food security in Benin, particularly in anticipation and reaction to the increase in food prices in early 2008. He welcomes the rapid adoption of plans to revitalize agriculture which began at the end of 2007, and congratulates the decision to place agriculture at the centre of the country’s development. He notes that his mission took place during a key period, when a first assessment of the Emergency Food Security Assistance Programme may be conducted, strategies are being devised for the revitalization of the country’s agriculture as well as for rural land reform, and when ECOWAS is entering the final phase of negotiation of an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.

The Special Rapporteur will write an official report on his visit which will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The report will include recommendations for both the authorities in Benin as well as for the international community.

Mr. De Schutter, who has been teaching for eight years as the UNESCO Chair in Human Rights and Democracy at the University of Abomey-Calavi, met with many state officials. He had meetings with the Ministers of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy and Water, Urbanism and Land Reform, Health, and Family. He also had discussions with the presidencies of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Economic and Social Council. He met with the coordinator of the Emergency Programme of Support for Food Security, officials from the National Office for Food Security Assistance (ONASA), the cabinet director of the High Commissioner for Consultative Governance, agencies of the United Nations system and many international development agencies. He held a roundtable discussion with small farmer organizations, as well as with other members of civil society. He also met many individuals, including agronomic and economic researchers. Finally, he travelled within the country, particularly in the Mono region, where he held discussions with small farmers and their families. He also visited Akpro-Missérété penitentiary, where he met with the administration as well as with detainees in order to understand their food situation.

Olivier De Schutter was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2008 as the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, and began his mandate on 1 May 2008. His mandate is to monitor the right to food and to inform the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council on this work. For more information on the mandate, see http://www.srfood.org or the website of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights http://www2.ohchr.org/french/issues/food/index.htm