“Our planet produces enough food to adequately feed its entire population. Yet tonight, 854 million women, men and children will go to sleep on an empty stomach.” It was on this note that Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), kicked off the official World Food Day (WFD) celebrations on October 16 in Rome. The central theme of this year’s WFD was “The Right to Food.”
The right to food, as defined by international legislation, is the right of every person to have regular access to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and culturally acceptable food for an active, healthy life.
By inviting the international community today to renew its commitment to guaranteeing the right to food to the world’s hundreds of millions of undernourished, the FAO is hoping to send strong political messages, convictions that WOAgri shares: “the right to food is the right to provide for oneself with dignity, not the right to be fed,” and the effective fulfillment of this right is not out of reach.
The same day, President Horst Köhler of Germany stated that “hunger is not an inescapable destiny and can be eliminated with wise policies. The governments of developing countries must place priority on food security, for all people have a right to healthy food, produced in a sustainable manner appropriate to their culture.” In a message to participants, Lennart Båge, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), noted that “three quarters of the world’s one billion extremely poor people live in rural areas. Many already suffer from hunger and malnutrition, but new and growing challenges such as climate change are making them all the more vulnerable. This is why now, more than ever, the world has a pressing moral obligation to invest in agricultural development to combat hunger and restore dignity to the poor.”
In addition to stating that the right to food is set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon paid tribute to the FAO for having developed “guidelines” on the matter, which provide recommendations for policies aimed at “bridge the gap between legal recognition and practice” of this right. In order to reach beyond these “Volontary Guidelines” which, as their name indicates, are not legally binding, Jacques Diouf has called for mechanisms of appeal to be put into place, for “a right is not a right if it cannot be claimed.”
Yet the effective enjoyment of the right to food on national territory depends on an increasing number of international factors. The increased interconnections between markets have forced local and subsistence agricultures to compete with surplus-generating, export-based agricultures. Furthermore, food supplies are subjected to significant pressures given such factors as the soaring prices of certain food products such as wheat and milk, the impacts of climate change on harvests and increased demand on the agrofuel market.
The repercussions of hunger and poverty reach beyond national borders as well. “The cost of failing to implement the right to food is incalculable,” the FAO Director-General added, not just for those countries directly affected, but for the entire world. Additionally, “ensuring that every human being has an adequate and stable supply of food is more than a moral imperative or an investment with potentially huge economic returns: it is the realization of a basic human right.”
That is why WOAgri is advocating a new global governance for agriculture, one that would redefine the organizational principles behind international agricultural trade. These principles would secure for every country and region the optimal balance among domestic production, exporting and importing, while ensuring the food sovereignty of peoples.