Asunción, 10 November 2016
Members of the press, ladies and gentlemen,
I am addressing you today at the conclusion of my official visit to the Republic of Paraguay, which I undertook at the invitation of the Government from 4 to 10 November 2016.
The objective of my mission was to evaluate the realisation of the right to food in the country. The following statement outlines my preliminary findings based on the information gathered during my visit. My final report will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2017.
Firstly I would like to thank the Government of Paraguay for the invitation to visit the country and for its cooperation during my visit. I appreciate the spirit of openness with which I was able to engage in dialogue with the authorities.
During my stay I met with Government representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of the Secretary of Social Affairs, the Technical Secretariat of Planning and Economic and Social Development, the Paraguay Institute of Indigenous People (INDI), the National Institute of Rural Development and Land Reform (INDERT), the President of the Supreme Court of Justice, and members of Congress. I also met with representatives from international organizations, academia, development agencies, the private sector, indigenous communities and a range of civil society actors.
During this week, I also had the opportunity to visit the community of San Juan, Puente Kyha, in the Canindeyú Department, as well as the area known as Bañado Norte in the outskirts of Asunción.
I am very grateful to the OHCHR Human Rights Advisor and her staff for their invaluable support both in the preparation of and during the visit. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who took the time to meet with me, particularly those who shared their personal experiences, and wish to express that their contributions have been vital to the success of my visit.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I wish to begin with some observations on the national legislation pertaining to the right to food. As a State party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Paraguay has a duty to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food and has committed itself to undertake the appropriate steps, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure the realisation of the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, as articulated in Article 2/1 and Article 11 of the Covenant.
Paraguay is also party to other core international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, all of which contain provisions explicitly linked to the right to adequate food.
However, while these ratified international instruments are sources of binding law in Paraguay, the right to food is implicitly enshrined in the Constitution. The right to food is protected in connection with the right to life and the right to health, as stipulated in the Constitution. This provides the possibility, but only indirectly, for the right to food to be adjudicated by the courts.
Justiciability of economic social and cultural rights, including the right to food, entails that potential victims of violations of these rights are able to file complaints before an independent and impartial body, in request of adequate remedies and its application. I would like to emphasize that in order to protect human rights, judicial remedy is fundamental.
During my visit, I have found that, for the most part, Paraguay has a wide range of well formulated and well-intended policies and strategies to ensure the realisation of the right to food. However, in my view the laws and policies have not always been translated into reality. I therefore insist on the need for a comprehensive legal framework on the right to adequate food, with clear guidelines to promote and implement this right.
Ladies and gentlemen,
According to the World Bank, over the past decade, the Paraguayan economy has grown at an average of 5 per cent, a higher level of growth than that of its neighbors. During this period, poverty levels have also been halved, falling from 44 per cent in 2006 to 22 per cent in 2016.
Despite its impressive growth, Paraguay has struggled to address inequalities, as reflected by a comparably high Gini index Coefficient, currently at 0.47, higher than most neighboring countries. Important segments of society are still excluded from the country’s economic development, and more than 1,5 million people still live in a situation of poverty, and almost 700 000 in a situation of extreme poverty (just below 10 percent of the population). Moreover, the rates of extreme poverty are three times higher in rural areas than in urban areas. As we know, poverty is closely linked to food insecurity.
According to the results of the Third National Census of Indigenous Peoples, in 2012 there were 115,944 indigenous persons in Paraguay (between 1-2 per cent of the population) living in 13 departments of the country. Data referred to by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples during her visit in 2014, indicated that the rates of poverty and extreme poverty among indigenous peoples were 75 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively, thus far exceeding the national average.
Discrimination is a structural and widespread problem that affects human rights on many including the rights of women, small holder farmers, indigenous people, disabled people and elderly people, amongst others.
The Government has taken a very important step by declaring poverty reduction a key priority area and by adopting the National Development Plan to 2030. This plan aims to coordinate action to target poverty amongst the different levels of government, civil society and the private sector and addresses the most vulnerable sections of people in Paraguay, with a particular emphasis on indigenous people.
I observed the positive efforts by the Secretary of Social Affairs to include a human based approach in the implementation of its social programs. I encourage the Government to continue these efforts, to ensure that this plan incorporates the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals as well as the human rights indicators in relation to the right to food, developed with the support of the Human Rights Advisor.
Malnutrition and lack of access to adequate and nutritious food continue to be a challenge in Paraguay, with the people in the countryside faring the worst. According to FAO, around 10 % of the population remains undernourished (700 000 people).
Data on the nutritional status of boys and girls under the age of 5 years indicate that malnutrition in the period between 2008 and 2014 did not improve significantly, with only a slight decline from 5.9% to 5.6%. According to the Food Security Index, around 10 per cent of children under five currently suffer from stunting and according to the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, indigenous children suffer from chronic malnutrition at a rate of 41.7 per cent.
Many effects of under-nutrition are irreversible. Lack of access to adequate and nutritious food will have a detrimental impact on Paraguay’s future generations, and this must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
We were informed of initiatives related to school feeding, both by the Ministry of Education and also through other social programs. Despite having an important outreach (it should reach 100 percent of students from 3- 18 years of age), we were informed that the program, for various reasons, particularly with regard to public schools in rural areas, was not effectively implemented. Concern remains regarding children who do not attend school.
I welcome the endorsement of the law on the protection of breastfeeding, which is key to ensuring adequate nutrition of babies, in accordance with recommendations by the World Health Organisation. I however urge that stronger efforts be made to ensure that this law is implemented, coupled with strategies to promote and enable exclusive breastfeeding, in particular during the first six months of a child’s life.
Pregnant women are also particularly vulnerable to malnutrition. In Paraguay, nearly 27 per cent of pregnant women are underweight, while 30 per cent are overweight. In turn, poor nutrition of mothers, in particular during pregnancy, has a direct impact on child development and survival.
While Paraguay has not seen a significant drop in under-nutrition rates, rates of overweight have increased significantly and now affect over 50 per cent of the population, putting them at risk of a variety of obesity-related diseases. I was encouraged to learn that the Ministry of Health is implementing and initiating new measures to counter this alarming trend. It is crucial that nutrition policies are comprehensive, targeting all forms of malnutrition, including obesity, and micronutrient deficiency, and that they are adequately supported financially. Their impact should be assessed based on relevant human rights indicators.
Agricultural sector and policies
The agricultural sector contributes to about 25% of gross domestic product, according to the Central Bank of Paraguay.
The Government of Paraguay has taken measures to strengthen its agriculture sector from being a net importer towards a large–scale exporter. Paraguay is currently the world’s fourth largest soya exporter, with a production that has increased from around six million tonnes of soya in 2007 to over nine million in 2015. It is also the world’s third largest bovine meat exporter, and it exports significant quantities of rice, corn and wheat.
According to official statistics for 2013 and 2014, almost 94 % of agricultural land was used for export crops, whilst only around 6% percent was used for domestic food production.
Land distribution in Paraguay is one of the most unequal in Latin America. According to figures provided during my visit, between 60 to 80 per cent of the land belongs to 2-3 % of the population. I also received information that an estimated 300,000 small holders and their families completely lack access to land.
During my visit, I met with several small holder farmer communities and received complaints regarding a severe lack of Government support in relation to various issues, including access to land, seeds, much-needed capital, as well as access to markets to commercialize their crops.
These testimonies illustrate the vital importance of fully implementing the long over-due Agrarian Reform. Article 114 of the Constitution places agrarian reform as one of the key factors in achieving rural well-being, and ensuring incorporation of the rural population in the country’s economic and social development. Such agrarian reform must be accompanied by technical assistance inputs, access to microcredit, provision of training services, as well as investment in agricultural infrastructure and irrigation systems in favour of small holder farmers. I wish to reiterate that accessibility, including to land and decent employment, is a key component of ensuring the right to food.
While I am aware that some State programmes specifically dedicated to strengthening family farming exist, I did not have the opportunity to discuss and analyse these in detail during my visit, since I did not have a chance to meet the pertinent staff of the Ministry of Agriculture. I strongly encourage that programmes are strengthened in order to support and protect this crucially important sector.
Cases of forced evictions in the context of small holder farmers’ land claims.
Inequality of land distribution in Paraguay is exacerbated by lengthy, complex and bureaucratic procedures to secure land titles. The lack of a comprehensive land registry has given rise to overlapping ownership deeds and these serve as a basis for multiple claims to the same parcels of land.
During my visit, I was informed of several cases involving land disputes, giving rise to social tensions and even violent confrontations. The situation of Marina Kue, Curuguaty in the department of Canindeyú is one particularly illustrative example. I was informed that in this case an unresolved land dispute led to an eviction in 2012, during which 6 members of the Police and 11 members of the community lost their lives.
The legal situation of the land remains unresolved, and I urge that measures are taken to resolve this case and others in order to prevent potential future tragedies. I am also concerned about the information I received regarding prolonged land disputes having resulted in judicial process against the farmers involved, directly related to their struggle to secure land necessary for their survival, sometimes resulting in lengthy prison sentences.
Expulsion of small holder farmers to the cities and the urban poor
Large-scale industrial agriculture uses far less labour per hectare than small-scale farming techniques, resulting in significantly lower overhead costs. I was informed that a typical soy farm in Paraguay needs one worker for around 400 hectares, whereas a normal family plot is usually the size of 10 hectares. This in combination with the decline in support and competitiveness of small holder farming has forced many small holders to abandon their livelihoods and communities in search of employment to feed their families.
Approximately 10,000 peoples are estimated to migrate to large cities, such as Asunción and Ciudad Del Este in Paraguay per year.
Meanwhile, poverty and low income levels in urban areas hamper access to adequate and nutritious food and other services. It is notable that while extreme poverty has fallen in Paraguay’s rural areas, it has failed to do so in urban areas, where it even showed a slight increase last year to 4,67 per cent, according to the latest household survey.
During my mission I observed significant disparities in Asunción. While some of the city’s inhabitants enjoy relatively good living conditions, others have been forced to live in extremely precarious circumstances, including in informal settlements, such as the inhabitants of the Bañado Norte area. This area is regularly flooded by the Paraguay River that runs through the city. Most of its residents take part in the informal economy, for example engaging in garbage recycling and small animal holding. A majority of the residents of the Bañado Norte region had been forced to abandon the rural areas they previously inhabited. During the interviews I conducted with these people, I was informed that many of them are currently under threat of evictions due to a planned coastal road project that will pass through the area.
The risks associated with export-oriented large–scale mechanised soy-bean production
The country’s development model, which promotes rapid economic growth through activities such as mono-cropping — particularly in the case of the massive expansion of soybean cultivation — and livestock, has resulted in the highest rate of deforestation in the world, exacerbating existing environmental problems caused by transgenic crops and the extensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
As previously mentioned, soya has become Paraguay’s flagship export product. In 2006, soy bean production used around 1.6 million hectares of land, rising to around 3.5 million hectares in 2013. Around 100 million tonnes of soya were produced in 2014 according to the Central Bank.
The expansion of soy cultivation is accompanied by an excessive use of pesticides. According to the National Service of Quality and Plant Health and Seeds (SENAVE), the importation of herbicides, pesticides and insecticides increased more than threefold over four years, between 2009 and 2014.
Pesticide exposure can have very dangerous impacts on human health, with children and pregnant women being particularly vulnerable to their effects. I had the opportunity to talk to men and women who have been affected by the excessive use of agrochemicals, for example complaining of skin, digestive and respiratory problems.
Unfortunately, it has been extremely difficult to directly and scientifically link a variety of serious health issues to a particular pesticide.
Moreover, many countries, including Paraguay, lack effective monitoring systems to regulate the pesticide industry and control their use by the agribusiness. This lack of monitoring and redress could amount to human rights violations if not addressed properly.
Indiscriminate use of pesticides has led to air and water pollution, and has long term adverse impacts on soil health and fertility. Industrial agriculture and mono cropping is particularly dependent upon pesticide inputs, particularly as pests adapt and build resistance, leading to a dangerous vicious circle.
In the context of large-scale industrial agriculture, it is vital that development plans and policies take into account the true cost of particular farming methods on soil and water resources, and the impact of environmental degradation on future generations, rather than focusing only on short term profitability and economic growth.
In this context, I have observed that Paraguay has yet to implement an environmentally friendly and sustainable agricultural development model. Since the Government has firmly committed to implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, I reiterate Goal Number 2, namely to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to congratulate Paraguay on appointing an Ombudsman for the protection and promotion of human rights. This appointment occurred during the week of my visit and I hope that this long awaited appointment will allow for the functioning of a much needed impartial human rights institution.
I also noted that Paraguay adopted its National Human Rights Plan in 2013; however I recommend that it be implemented according to the recommendations made on behalf of the Human Rights Committee.
I also congratulate Paraguay on its work related to the inter-institutional mechanism, called the Recommendations Monitoring System (SIMORE), which has been established on behalf of Paraguay to follow up on the action taken pursuant to international recommendations relating to human rights.
While much more could be said on a range of issues, including commending the Government for its good policies and programmes, let me finish with some preliminary remarks and recommendations that will be addressed in more detail in the final report presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2017.
In order to fully meet its human rights obligations with regard to the right to food, the Republic of Paraguay must:
- Ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The ratification of the Optional Protocols would enable access to effective remedy for groups, individuals and children, providing opportunity to bring cases to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
- Adopt a national strategy on the right to adequate food and protection of small holder farmers aligned with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Such a strategy must establish time-bound benchmarks and effective implementation plans. It should also include the necessary budgetary and fiscal measures to ensure agricultural sustainability in the long term.
- Pass pending legislation, including the Law against all forms of Discrimination, Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Extension Law as well as all other pending bills in relation to the right to adequate food and nutrition. In particular, I call on the Government to expedite the Right to Food Sovereignty and Nutrition Bill and to allocate the necessary budgetary and human resources for its effective implementation.
- Protect and promote family farming as a productive model. Incomes of small-scale food producers particularly women, indigenous people and young people should be increased while securing equal access to land and other productive resources. Moreover small-holders should be guaranteed access to the market, to credit and to training programs.
- Comply with its duty to protect individuals and communities against human rights abuses in the context of the expansion of large scale monoculture and industrial agriculture The state should take all measures, including fiscal remedies needed to ensure that export oriented soybean cultivation does not undermine the enjoyment of the right to adequate food of citizens.
- Implement and carefully monitor environmental regulations that protect human health, soil degradation and water pollution from intensive agriculture, including of large scale livestock.
- Additionally I recommend the State to create plant banks in order to maintain a genetic diversity of seeds and to ensure access to equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such genetic resources.
- Implement the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)’s voluntary guidelines for domestic agricultural policy making activities, specifically the “Voluntary Guidelines to support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security”; “Voluntary Guidelines of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security”; and “Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems”.
I trust that the Government will give priority to designing and implementing effective policies with the participation of all relevant stakeholders aimed at ensuring the right to adequate food. I am convinced that Paraguay could reverse the current situation and make impressive strides in attaining food and nutrition security for everyone in the future, while at the same time working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Finally, I wish to reiterate my commitment to continue the dialogue initiated during this visit. I look forward to working with the Government in a spirit of cooperation on the implementation of my recommendations.