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Food systems and human rights


Background

Hunger and malnutrition in all their forms pose major challenges to the full realization of the right to food and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development highlights the need to approach nutrition and food systems from a rights-based perspective. Member states have committed to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” (SDG2).

The UN Secretary-General announced that the Food Systems Summit would be held in autumn 2021 with a goal to push the world to transform food systems in order to reach all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with particular emphasis on eliminating hunger and malnutrition. The aspiration is that the event will be a “People’s Summit” and a “Solutions Summit”, and that States, United Nations entities, civil society and businesses would come together to develop ideas about how to transform the world’s food systems.

In the meantime, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only led to a dramatic loss of human life but is also affecting entire food systems, compromising food security and nutrition. Restrictions on movement within and across countries have disrupted entire food supply chains, affected the availability of food, and posed critical challenges to food production and distribution. People who are at risk and in vulnerable situations have been hit the hardest. Among many of its impacts, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore a much-needed discussion on transforming our food systems to make it more sustainable and responsive to current and future challenges, including hunger and food insecurity, especially in the developing world.

The Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, has emphasized the importance of food systems for our human rights. The High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security (HLPE), in its report on nutrition and food systems, defined a sustainable food system as “a food system that ensures food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition of future generations are not compromised”.

The Special Rapporteur has therefore followed closely the developments related to the 2021 Food System Summit. He provided his independent advice to the Summit organizers and issued a number of his recommendations and expert critiques during the process. The Special Rapporteur also shared his preliminary observations in his report to the Human Rights Council in March 2021. The Special Rapporteur also engaged with the Summit’s leadership and its five Action Tracks, and he held a number of conversations on food systems with communities, civil society, and academia.

The questionnaire below is meant to provide additional inputs and assist the Special Rapporteur in preparing a report on food systems and human rights. The report will be presented to the General Assembly during its 76th session in October 2021, and it will provide a comprehensive account of the 2021 Food Systems Summit process and its final outcomes. The call for inputs and the questionnaire are formulated by the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and are not part of the UN Food Systems Summit.

Summary of the report

In this report (A/76/237) focussing on food systems, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food observes that, even though the 2021 Food System Summit has elevated public discussion concerning food systems reform, sufficient attention has not been paid to structural challenges facing the world’s food systems. The Summit’s multi-stakeholder approach, driven by the private sector, has fallen short of multilateral inclusiveness and has led to the marginalization of some countries. In a break from past practice, the Summit process has not provided an autonomous and meaningful space for participation by communities and civil society, with the risk of leaving behind the very population critical for the Summit’s success. In the report, the Special Rapporteur warns against building new forms of governance from the Summit’s outcomes and recommends a set of questions for assessing the outcomes through a human rights framework.

Preparation of the report

For the preparation of his report, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food invited States, international organizations and financial institutions, civil society organizations, communities, business enterprises, academics, networks, and other relevant stakeholders to share inputs to address the topics below.

Questions:

Food systems and human rights

  1. What are the most salient challenges facing the food systems in your country/region? Please explain why.
  2. What are the examples of ways in which the challenges facing the global food system are having adverse impacts on human rights broadly, and the right to food specifically?
  3. Are there specific challenges that your country has faced in attempting to employ a rights-based approach to transforming food systems without leaving anyone behind?
  4. To what extent has the UN Food System Summit considered those challenges in its deliberations? Please explain.
  5. What are the specific obligations of States and responsibilities of businesses in terms of preventing and addressing adverse impacts caused by the unsustainable production or consumption of food?
  6. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, what are specific examples of rights-based initiatives and good practices (including policy, standards and programmes) that have successfully improved people’s access to adequate food in a sustainable and systemic way?

Participation and access to information during the Food Systems Summit

  1. To what extent was the information on the Summit accessible, clear and practical for you and your community and partners?
  2. In what ways have you participated in the Summit (events, dialogues, submission of inputs etc.)? Please describe the nature and content of your participation, if applicable.
  3. To what extent would you consider your participation in the FSS as active and meaningful? Please explain.

Outcomes of the Food Systems Summit

  1. What are your expectations from the Summit’s outcomes following its conclusion in October 2021? How would these outcomes contribute to the full realization of the right to food for all?
  2. What would be the most optimal implementation process of the Summit’s outcomes? Which international and regional frameworks or forums could serve as a useful platform? Please explain.
  3. How do you envisage your role in the implementation of the Summit’s outcomes?

Inputs received

States

Civil Society Organisations

Indigeneous Peoples Organisations

International organisations