The Right to Food

Mon, 01/01/2007

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and of one’s family, including food…” -Universal Declaration of Human Right,1948, Article 25.

Hunger is both a violation of human dignity and on obstacle to social, political and economic progress. International law recognizes that everyone has the fundamental right to be free from hunger, and 22 countries have enshrined food rights in their constitutions. National governments must do everything possible to ensure that people have the physical and economic access to enough safe, nutritious food to lead healthy and active lives.


Historically, development activities have often been based on practical grounds – to raise gross domestic product or defuse civil conflict. But a new approach has emerged stressing the importance of basic human rights, referred to as rights-based development.

A rights-based approach to food security holds that people have a fundamental right to be free from hunger. It considers the beneficiaries of development not merely as passive recipients, but as active stakeholders. It also puts the primary responsibility on the State, requiring it to do everything possible to ensure people have physical and economic access at all times to enough nutritious, safe food to lead healthy and active lives.

Violations of the right to food include blocking access on the grounds of race, sex, language, age, religion or political belief. In addition, food should not be used to exact political or economic pressure, for instance, through food embargoes or blocking humanitarian convoys.

Paying attention to human rights is not just a lofty ideal; it is also an effective development approach. Research shows a link between civil and political freedom and economic growth. And protecting human rights can also prevent one of the most damaging obstacles to the right to food: famine. Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate in economics, argues that famines are much less likely to occur when basic civil and political rights are respected.


Armed conflict violates the right to food by destroying crops, food stocks, livestock and farm equipment. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has calculated that over the last three decades war has cost US$4300 million a year – enough to pull 330 million people from the ranks of the undernourished.
● In Rwanda in 1995, war displaced 3 out of 4 farmers and cut the harvest in half.
● In Afghanistan about 700 square kilometers of the country contain landmines, drastically restricting cultivation and killing or injuring 300 people each month.

“Agriculture remains the core survival strategy for the rural poor in developing countries,” said Anne Bauer, Director of FAO’s Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division, “FAO’s role is therefore critical to bolster self-reliance, and reduce the need for relief and harmful coping strategies such as selling assets, forced migration and sex-working, which in turn can exacerbate the humanitarian situation and increase the risk of permanent destitution.”


Africa, where violence, displacement and endemic poverty threaten the food security and livelihoods of millions, continues to be the focus of the appeals. The situation is aggravated by recurrent disasters and HIV/AIDS.

In Burundi, nearly 70% of the population lives below the poverty line and over 90% depends on subsistence farming. The Government and international community have identified agricultural recovery and rehabilitation as the first priority to consolidate the dividends of peace.

FAO is calling for $9.5 million to provide assistance to groups with special vulnerabilities, such as households with limited access to land, refugees and the internally displaced, ex-combatants, child-headed households and households affected by HIV/AIDS.

Somalia remains one of the most challenging humanitarian crises in the world. Despite a slight improvement in the food security situation, the FAO Food Security Analysis Unit for Somalia reports that in 2007 up to 1.8 million people will require urgent assistance.

In Uganda, over 20 years of conflict have resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

FAO will help retuning IDPs resume agricultural activities through the distribution of seeds and tools, and will provide equipment and training to improve post-harvest processing and storage.