Hunger campaigners promote the Right to Food

SBS World News Australia, November 22, 2013

There have been calls to support a campaign that asserts all people are entitled to be free from hunger or malnutrition, and that governments bear the responsibility for guaranteeing these entitlements.

Reducing world hunger and malnutrition has been on the global political agenda for decades.

Yet in 2013 it’s still a major issue, with the United Nations’ World Food Program saying one in eight people are undernourished.

And it says poor nutrition causes nearly half of infant deaths.

But a United Nations expert says a relatively new concept, called the Right to Food, is proving to be a key tool in the fight against hunger.

Brianna Piazza reports…

TRANSCRIPT: According to United Nations estimates, hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter says that doesn’t need to be the case.

“For many years hunger and malnutrition were seen as technical issues that could be addressed by increasing production, by improving trade and with the help of economists,” he said.

In a report to the UN General Assembly, Mr de Schutter is calling for more support for a relatively new concept called the Right to Food.

Mr de Schutter says this involves making governments legally responsible for ensuring their poorest people have access to food, by writing it into their constitutions and laws.

“What governments came to realise in the early years of the past decade – beginning perhaps with the World Food Summit of 1996 – is that the issue of accountability and of governments combatting discrimination were issues that were hugely important to succeed in food security strategies,” he said.

“This shift meant that hunger that was seen as a technical problem increasingly became to be seen a political problem.”

Mr de Schutter says holding governments legally accountable for guaranteed food supplies also helps to safeguard against corruption, discrimination and social injustices.

However, he says countries must also find ways to reduce the amount of food that is wasted.

“It is nothing short of scandalous that every year about 30 per cent of food that is produced is actually wasted…that’s 1.3 billion tons of food wasted.

“We produce in the world about 4,800 kilocalories per person – this is twice as much as what we need to feed the population of 7 billion – yet we have almost 1 billion people who are hungry.

“And that is clearly is not because we’re not producing enough. It’s because these inefficiencies aren’t being tackled and because of social injustices.”

Associate Professor in Public Health Nutrition at Deakin University, Dr Mark Lawrence, agrees.

He says Australia is well placed to make a significant impact globally when it comes to improving food security.

According to federal government figures, Australia supplies food to 40 million people in other parts of the world.

More than half of Australia’s food exports go to Asia, the region of the world with the largest number of hungry and malnourished people.

However, Dr Lawrence says Australia isn’t exporting as much food as it otherwise could because the country’s food production and distribution system is ineffective.

He says around 40 per cent of food produced in Australia doesn’t make it from the farms to the dinner plate, while the figure for fruit and vegetables is up to half.

“I think one of the more unfortunate or tragic examples of food waste is where there are domestic standards, particularly around the retail of certain food,” he said.

“Farmers might produce products such as fruit and vegetables that nutritionally – and from a safety perspective – is perfectly fine, but it might be slightly too small for a retail chain to purchase, it might have a blemish on it, it might be the wrong shape.”

Experts say world hunger would be reduced if communities focused more on producing and selling food locally.

Dr Lawrence says this would also bring several social, economic and environmental benefits.

“You have social advantages where the people who are producing the food are gaining an income and there’s an opportunity for a transfer of the food to other local community members and so on,” he said.

“So there’s more knowledge of where food comes from and environmentally that makes lots of sense. [There’s] less fossil fuels used in transferring and storing the food and it can also be argued that the food tends to be nutritionally healthier.”

Oxfam food policy advisor Shen Narayanasamy says there’s clear evidence that agricultural aid programs still aren’t reaching women who desperately need it.

“So when government and aid agencies arrive to assist producers with what they’re doing they need to make sure their projects are gender sensitive.

“For instance, what can often happen is an agricultural extension project will arrange to speak with small farmers about pest management and they will arrange to speak with all the male farmers, whereas women are doing a large proportion of the farming and will be excluded from that project.”

She says women are also often disadvantaged when farmers are compensated for land acquired for other purposes.

“In Africa, for example, women own just one per cent of agricultural land even though they make up a large proportion of people who are accessing and farming that land.

“So because women have this structural disadvantage in relation to actually having legal ownership – when you have a big plantation or a large scale land acquisition going, if there is compensation paid, it’s usually paid to and negotiated with the men who are listed as landowners. Whereas because women aren’t listed, their disadvantage is compounded in that situation.”

Aid workers say that as well as not having the same legal recognition, land rights or financial resources; it’s often women who suffer the most from hunger and malnutrition.

They say it’s a common occurrence in parts of the world that when droughts hit and families lose income, girls and women will go without meals before their brothers and fathers.

Categories: human rightsTags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Brianna Piazza

Journalist and travel writer.

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