Right to food should be placed at world’s core effort to address structural causes of food crisis: UN right to food expert

Abu Dhabi: Unless the right to food is placed at the very centre of the efforts of international community to address the structural causes which have led to the global food crisis, we risk repeating our past mistakes, an international expert on social, economic and trade rights has warned.

”We may succeed in producing more out of fear of producing too little, but we may omit to address the inequities in the current food systems, and to ensure that the poor have decent incomes that allow them to have access to adequate food, Dr. Olivier Dr Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, told the Majlis of His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces last night.

In a lecture titled: ”The Debate on How to Address Global Hunger : From Challenges to Solutions”, Dr. Schutter said :”Scenario of the decreased agricultural production is bleak …… the world must have the ability to feed itself.” He stressed that food production must be increased 60% by 2030 to meet the world growing demand.

The lecturer explained the broad trends of supply and demand of food commodities at global levels, the ecological dimension; dwindling resources and climate change, reinvesting in agriculture and the role of global governance and the right to food.

The lecture was attended by H.H. Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, National Security Advisor, H.H. Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, H.H. Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chief of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court,Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and a number of Sheikhs, senior officials and diplomats.

”The challenge that we are facing today in unprecedented. We must feed a growing population that, because it is more urbanized, is shifting towards more animal protein-rich diets. Climate change and the degradation of land increase the competition for natural resources, and shall reduce the surface of land available for agricultural production. At the same time however, a focus exclusively on the tensions between supply and demand at the global level, may lead to an incomplete diagnosis and to prescribe the wrong solutions,” he said.

”The UN Millennium Development Goals aim to reduce world hunger population from 20 to 10 % and achieve food security to them but the percentage stayed somewhere at 16%. Sub-Saharan in Africa, South Asia and Yemen are the most hit by hunger today.” Over the past fifty years, he added, increases in agricultural productivity have consistently outstripped increases in demand for agricultural products, and the calories availability per capita has improved significantly as a result. And yet, we have almost one person in seven globally, mostly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan, that are unable to feed themselves decently.

”We must therefore not only produce more : we must produce better, in ways that are environmentally sustainable and socially equitable, and we must do with a view to reducing rural poverty and to meeting the needs of the urban and rural poor at the same time. Building on experiences in Latin America and in Africa in particular, we describe how the right to adequate food, as recognized in international law, can help to address this multi-faceted challenge.” He believed that a combine formula of green revolution and agroecology may provide a solution to the food crisis, urging government to support small-scale farmers to play their role in solving the problem.

He noted that 1.3 billion farm workers are living in slumps after they deserted their fields in hope of better life.

”It is estimated that about 295 million people out of the world population of 7 billion are hungry in the world today. This is an increase from 825 million in 2003-2005, and 820 million in 1996.Previous policies have failed. The world food price crisis, characterized by a sudden increases of prices of agricultural commodities on the international markets which peaked in June 2008, took States and the international community by surprise.

According to him, the crisis had devastating human consequences, with particularly severe impacts on women and children, due to inequalities within households and due to the specific nutritional needs of the latter for their physical and mental development. The prices of food commodities on global markets peaked again during the second half of 2010, at a time when ability for public budgets to cope with the increased prices of food imports was particularly low, and when the poorest households had already sold most of their productive assets simply to survive.

For many families particularly in developing countries, he noted, the sharp increase we have witnessed over the past few years made food unaffordable, leading them to cut back on expenses on education or health, to switch to less varied diets, or have fewer meals. But the crisis reaches much further, and it is much deeper, than the question of prices alone would suggest.

”The crisis illustrated the unsustainability of a global food system which may be good at producing large amounts of food, but which is neither socially nor environmentally sustainable; while the incomes of small-scale farmers in developing countries are below subsistence levels, often leaving them no other option but to leave their fields and seek employment in cities, the current methods of agricultural production deplete the soil, produce large amounts of green gases, and use vast quantities of water, threatening food security in the long term, and making the repetition of crises such as we’ve seen unavoidable if we do not act decisively”.

The global food crisis, he went on to say, has shed light on the fragility of our food system. This system has proven unable to resist in the face of shocks such as a peak in the prices of oil, a sudden shift in demand, for examples as a result of the diversion of food crops for the production of fuel, or speculative behavior on the commodities markets. As a result, international agencies, government, and the private sector, have all recognized the need to invest more in agriculture. Largely due to the structural decline of prices of agricultural commodities since the second oil shock of 1979, itself the result of the OECD member states dumping cheap food on the international markets, this sector has been neglected in both public budgets and official development assistance since the 1980s, and it has failed to attract private investors.

”This is changing : the recent crises have served as a wake-up call for the international community. And that renewed interest in agriculture is to be welcomed.Yet, producing more food shall not serve to combat hunger and malnutrition if the poor are unable to buy the food which is available on the markets. And though clearly desirable in the short term, low prices are not a long-term solution if this perpetuates the addiction of many developing countries to cheap food, leading them to sacrifice their long-term interest in developing the capacity to feed themselves against their short-term interest in buying processed foods from abroad at prices lower than they were produced at home.

”And neither low prices and large volumes produced are an answer for the 500 million households in developing countries, comprising over 2.1 billion individuals, who depend on small-scale food production for their livelihoods – and it is within the ranks of those rural poor, the majority of which are small-scale food producers, that we have find most of those are hungry.

Dr. Schutter, who authored several food related reports such as ” Food Commodities Speculation and Food Price Crises – Regulation to reduce the Risks of Price Volatility”, spoke about how did the right to food emerge? he said in 1996, the World Food Summit in Rome requested that the right to food, recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights be given a more concrete and operational content. The right to food imposes on all States obligations not only towards the persons living on their national territory, but also towards the populations of other States. These two sets of obligations complement one another. The right to food can only be fully realized where both
national’ andinternational’ obligations are complied with.