Governments have a role to play to help hasten agricultural reforms
Interview Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, by Rose Hayden-Smith, UC Food Observer
February 13, 2017
“The right to food is the right to have regular, permanent and unobstructed access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free from anxiety”. It was to establish the validity and the legitimacy that the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food was established by the Human Rights Commission in April 2000.
Hilal Elver was appointed the new Special Rapporteur in 2014, succeeding Olivier de Schutter who, after two successive mandates, launched IPES-Food based on the IPCC model in order to build bridges between the scientific community and decision-makers.
As her predecessors, the American academic of Turkish origin, Hilal Elver has therefore set out to promote, among other things, a strong political will and a multi-sectoral approach based on the law and encompassing agriculture, health, education and trade in order to effectively combat food insecurity.
In an interview for the UC Food Observer1, she discusses her vision of sustainable food systems on the importance of defending human rights for the most vulnerable farmers and the agro-ecological approach as a viable agricultural model. She also reiterates the need for farmers in developing countries (DCs) to group together, in a cooperative logic, and more globally the need for global agricultural governance, based on a common will and taking into account the challenges of food security in today's and tomorrow's geopolitical balances.
Momagri Editorial Board
Q: Your professional background, which includes international aspects of environmental law, human rights and woman’s rights, seems to echo many of the concerns in the food movement. Can you comment?
Dr. Elver: Precisely. These areas are very relevant for advancing the goals of the global food movement. Women’s access to resources such as land, seed, water, finance and market is vitally important in the food production chain, as well as enhancing food security and nutrition for all, taking account of women’s role as care giver, as consumer, as producer and as mother.
Moreover, agricultural production, especially livestock, is one of the major obstacles in all efforts to reduce green house gas emissions, while at the same time food systems are impacted negatively by climate change. It is a doubly negative interaction.
Q: The right to food, the right to clean water, and the right to a healthy environment seem like a given to many, but that’s not the case with everyone. How do you hope to positively influence the global situation in your position?
Dr. Elver: Countries that accept those rights and provide internalized remedies in their domestic legal systems for their implementation make our job one of monitoring, and investigating the fulfillment of such rights, as well as suggesting how best to deal with major obstacles. If countries do not have an appropriate legal structure, then our job is to encourage them to reform their legal order, and establish a workable and responsible system.
Besides suggesting and advising on legal and institutional systemic policies to enhance food security and eliminate hunger, we also recommend, encourage and help governments make the right policy choices in their efforts to deal with hunger and food insecurity. In developing countries, these policies and laws are very important as it is where 95% of food insecure people in the world live.
Q: You’re an advocate of agroecology. Why is agroecology important in developing nations? Why might it be an important model for women?
Dr. Elver: Agroecology offers a community-oriented, less resource intensive, ecologically sensitive production model, and it is operative in many developing countries. In this time of climate change, agroecology is almost the only important way to get away from relying on excessive uses of chemicals and fossil fuels,. It also beneficially prioritizes local production, as well as respects the participation of women in the production and decision-making process on the basis of full equality.
Q: What advice would you give to someone beginning a practice of ethical, intentional and environmentally aware eating, which takes into account larger and pressing global issues?
Dr. Elver: During the last few years, this position is being advocated on a variety of platforms. Small holder and family farms are disappearing everywhere. They need to work together in a cooperative manner if they are to compete with giant food firms, which are taking over every link in the food chain from farm to fork. These farmers should also pay close attention to what kind of production makes the most sense for them to do. Instead of relying on cash crops, diversified prediction might often lead to better results. But such advice is easier to give that to enact.
Governments have a role to play to help hasten agricultural reforms as appropriate to the conditions of each particular society. Global food policy is increasingly organically interconnected. Any broad policy decision made in the developed world will affect the whole world. For this reason, a global approach is essential to ensure that unintended consequences of decisions taken in the developed world will not do great harm elsewhere, especially in relation to the most food vulnerable societies.
Q: From your unique vantage point, to what degree is food/economic insecurity driving the social and political instability we’re seeing so much of around the globe?
Dr. Elver: It is very much connected. This was apparent in the 2007 food prices crises. In many countries (around 50) food riots took place. Governments tried to subsidize bread prices in many Middle Eastern countries. A few years later, the so-called Arab Spring happened. Such social turmoil was an economic upheaval, (linked to environmental challenges) as much as it was a political phenomenon.
For instance in Syria, long term drought created severe negative impacts in many rural areas with adverse consequences for agriculture. The people most affected moved to cities and regions with no employment prospects. It was obvious that such societal distress triggered major political unrest. At present, Europe is feeling the effect of a deepening refugee crisis. The biggest in human history. It is unlikely to go away. More than 60 million people are searching for jobs in the developed world, which is paying for the food and shelter of these jobless masses. As a result, the job competition is encouraging political extremism everywhere.
Q: Food as foreign policy…what are the most effective and ethical strategies American could use?
The best food aid policy is helping to build infrastructure that allows people to feed themselves, instead of being dependent on food from outside. This is the best way to help developing countries: building roads, bridges, warehouses; teaching traditional farmers how to produce and market in a more efficient manner; while respecting local practices and food culture.
Q: What must institutions do to effect change in the global food system?
There are enough institutions. We need the appropriate political will. There are enough money and knowledge in the developed world, and enough human and natural resources, as well as traditional knowledge in many developing countries. All we need is to coordinate, cooperate and act, doing what is possible and necessary.