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Protecting the right to food: Lessons from Eastern and Southern Africa

While figures differ somewhat, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that 925 million people around the globe, almost one person in seven, go to bed hungry every night.

Group of women cooking © FAO/G. BizzarriHunger and malnutrition remain key global challenges, with many Governments struggling to address the needs of their populations and to meet the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.

“Fighting hunger and malnutrition is not merely a humanitarian cause but rather a matter of empowering people to claim their rights and to hold Governments accountable,” said Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur expert on the right to food, at a recent expert summit held in Nairobi, Kenya.

What steps must Governments take to secure the right to food in their countries? How well are countries in Eastern and Southern Africa proceeding along this path, and how can the best practices be shared? These were the questions underpinning the right to food consultation.

More than 45 food experts, parliamentarians, human rights institutions, policy-makers, food producers organizations and NGOs from Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe took part in the meeting organized by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for the Special Rapporteur.

“Political will, civil society participation and empowerment, and the establishment of monitoring mechanisms are key elements of any strategy against hunger,” said De Schutter.

In order to meet their domestic obligations regarding the right to food, States should introduce domestic legal protections for this right in national constitutions and laws. Constitutional and broader legal protection of the right to food can often be used to challenge laws and practices that lead to violations of the right to food.

“Several countries in the region, including Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia, have succeeded in or are in the process of adopting constitutional protections, laws, and national strategies, policies and programmes to strengthen the protection of the right to food,” he said.

“South Africa has led the way with the inclusion of the right to food in its post-apartheid Constitution,” said De Schutter. “More recently this right was included in the Kenyan Constitution approved by a popular referendum in 2010.”

Zambia may join Kenya and South Africa by inserting the right to food in a new constitution currently under review while Malawi, Mozambique and Uganda have draft laws waiting for adoption by their respective Parliaments. National food policies are also in place in several countries, including Tanzania.

“People are hungry not because there is too little food: they are hungry because they are economically marginalized and politically powerless,” said De Schutter. “Right to Food regional expert meetings involving all relevant actors serve to share best practices and to help countries strengthen laws and policies to ensure that everyone has access to adequate food.”

The Right to Food regional expert meeting, held on 4 and 5 April 2012, convened by the Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the right to food, followed a first Right to Food regional expert consultation last year in Bogotá, Colombia, with participants from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The right to food is a human right recognized under international law, which protects the rights of all human beings to feed themselves in dignity, either by producing their food or by purchasing it. The right to food is recognized under Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economics, social and Cultural Rights and Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, among other international human rights treaties.

27 April 2012

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