The Right to Food
An Illustration of Poverty and
Human Rights in Action
FAO Representative in India and Bhutan
Importance of the RtF in relation to
themes of the Conference
Specific application within the
concept of poverty and HR– concrete
Complex issues, ideological disputes
-- the RtF is an exciting arena of
current action (globally and in India).
Example of how the law can support
implementation of abstract rights.
Poverty and Hunger
Amartya Sen: “Starvation is the characteristic
of some people not having enough food to
eat. It is not the characteristic of there not
being enough food to eat.”
Hunger is both an effect and a cause of
Anti-hunger programme requires both
improved production and improved access.
Econ. growth contributes to progressive
realization of the RtF and vice versa.
The efficiency cost of hunger : a quantitative assessment
(Undernourishment and Economic Growth – Jean-Louis Arcand)
Why Use a Human Rights
UDHR and ICESCR: right to adequate
standard of living.
Secretary-General’s call in 1997 for
integration of HR in all of areas of UN.
Most important: Shift from basic human
needs and view of quantitative deficit to
“next frontier” where burden of proof
shifts and “beneficiaries” become active
subjects and claim holders.
World Food Summit
Leaders considered levels of hunger
intolerable; hunger seen as morally
Problem not quantity of food but lack of
political will and insufficient resources
HR approach builds on this conviction,
introducing accountability dimension and
General Comment 12 of CESCR:
“The right to adequate food is realised when
every man, women and child, alone or in
community with others, have physical and
economic access at all times to adequate
food or means for its procurement.”
Obligation of state is to take steps to
achieve progressively the full realisation of
the right to adequate food.
Common misunderstanding that RtF
means state needs to provide food: i.e.,
right to be fed.
Food is a private good, unlike other rights.
Depends on myriad actors: production,
distribution, safety, etc.
Complex set of transactions between
impersonal market and free individual.
Multiple levels of government involved.
Areas of Consensus
State has obligations and responsibilities
regarding food, which HR approach helps
Right to be fed is recognized when
necessary to save lives—as last resort.
Judgements about policy measures and
effectiveness of programmes are
Poverty reduction requires more
productive households + social safety
Roles for government, private sector, civil
society and partnerships amongst them.
Levels of State Obligations
To respect: limits on state power (e.g.,
not to interfere in livelihoods).
To protect: regulate conduct of non-state
actors (e.g., food safety, environment,
To fulfil: positive actions by state to
identify vulnerable groups, facilitate
access, provide safety net (e.g., India
Supreme Court case, KBK districts).
Utility of a Framework Law on the
Right to Food
Constitutional guarantees in some countries
(e.g., South Africa, India), but little on who has
responsibility for what.
Legal/Regulatory framework could be useful to:
• Set principles, targets and benchmarks;
• Assign responsibility to various levels;
• Improve accountability through more precise
responsibility and information;
• Formalise participation and roles of NGOs and civil
society in general.
Inter-Governmental Working Group
1996 WFS request to OHCHR for better
definition of Right to Food.
2002 request to FAO to set up IGWG to
“elaborate voluntary guidelines to achieve
progressive realisation of the right to
adequate food in context of national food
March 2003 first session; workshop in Oct.
Case studies—including India.
Guidelines to be completed within two years,
based on best practice, consultations.
Human rights and poverty approach
provides critical value
• Perspective: Active subjects with claims
• Need to consider obligations + perfor-
mance of government programmes
Right to Food is a human right that
can be realised and implemented.
Legal/judicial perspective adds value.
India is among those at the forefront.