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Mapping out how countries can work out mechanisms in policy, implementation on the right to food


A path-breaking meeting was recently held in Nairobi where various stakeholders met with the special rapporteur of the United Nations Secretariat on the right to food.

The meeting, attended by many experts, farmers, scholars and policy makers including ESAFF leaders was convened by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr Olivier de Shutter, and organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), held in  Nairobi, Kenya, in  April 2012 at the Hotel Inter-Continental.

ESAFF was engaged in expert consultation on the implementation of the right to food focusing on experiences of eastern and southern Africa.

Inviting delegates to the meeting, Mr. de Shutter said he was acting in his capacity as Special Rapporteur on the right to food, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 13/4. He acted under the auspices of this mandate, by convening a regional expert consultation in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The meeting brought together approximately 40 experts from the Eastern and Southern African region, including civil servants, members of Parliament, and staff from national human rights institutions, civil society and international organisations. The main objective was to provide a platform for dialogue between experts with a view to identifying ways and means to move forward efforts towards the realization of the right to food for all.

East African delegates were particularly asked to prepare a discussion paper  in the working group on preparedness towards climate-related shocks and emergencies. The working group was tasked to focus on creating and implementing programs and policies vis-à-vis preparedness towards climate-related shocks and emergencies that employ a right to food framework.

Prior regional work on disaster management and preparedness and in particular connections with communities facing challenges due to environmental related events were pivotal in laying the framework for the rest of the conversation.

Research Fellow with the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. One major session was devoted to Access to land and the right to food in the context of large-scale land acquisitions, where objectives of discussion in the session was to focus on how government regulation and programmes can ensure that the right to food of local groups is not compromised by large-scale land acquisitions.

Participants  examined challenges of large-scale land acquisitions to the progressive realization of the right to food. That aspect was tied to the issue of what alternatives to large-scale land acquisitions can be encouraged or facilitated by States.
Another sub-theme was how regulatory frameworks can be designed to ensure that large-scale land acquisitions promote the right to food and guarantee that human rights are not violated.

Attention was also directed at how civil society can engage with governments in the development and implementation of regulation of large-scale land acquisitions and alternative programmes that both protect and facilitate enjoyment of the right to food. Experts would bring up synergies on what strategies or lessons learned can be taken from experiences of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe in dealing with large-scale land acquisitions within their own territories.

As part of the background to the convention is increased volatility of prices of agricultural commodities on international markets. The distinctive merger between the energy and food commodities markets have led to a sudden surge of interest in the acquisition or lease of farmland in developing countries.

The result is large-scale land acquisitions and a global enclosure movement in which large areas of arable land change hands. This is conducted through deals often negotiated between host States and foreign investors with little or no participation of local communities who depend on access to land for their livelihoods.

“Large-scale land acquisitions also lead to a transformation from small-scale farming by local peasants and small-scale producers farming for personal, local and domestic production to larger, often mono-cropping agriculture for products to be sent abroad in many cases bypassing domestic markets,” the diplomat noted. Large-scale land acquisitions can pose many serious challenges to the realization of the right to food by changing who has access to land, what is cultivated and where cultivated foodstuffs are sold i.e. on international or domestic markets.

Another methodological session directed energies to examine how to make frameworks effective, by appropriate monitoring implementation, where the discussion objectives were outlined as focusing on mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of programmes and strategies, and ensuring transparency, accountability and effectiveness. The session also covered mechanisms to promote civil society participation in the elaboration of policies and programmes and in overseeing their implementation.

The background discussion paper posed the question as to how monitoring can be conducted in an inclusive and participatory manner, aside from the problem of what mechanisms and processes are necessary in this regard. Participants were asked to figure out if there are lessons to be learned from country contexts of successful and unsuccessful monitoring schemes, and the reasons why they were or were not successful.

Another aspect related to what actions civil society can take to work with States on establishing and engaging monitoring mechanisms rooted in human rights principles.

A substantial conceptual background set out the idea that national laws, strategies, policies and programmes grounded in human rights frameworks with robust provisions to secure the progressive realization of food are useless if they are not implemented.

Similarly, national laws, strategies, policies and programmes that achieve targets but in their implementation are not transparent, lack participatory mechanisms and discriminate against certain groups will not succeed in achieving the realization of the right to food. Neither will programmes that fail to focus on the most vulnerable in the provision of services or that encourage practices that lead to environmental degradation. It  thus observed that monitoring mechanisms can encourage transparency, accountability and
effectiveness, as well as ensure remedies when problems arise. “They can protect the right food and facilitate its realization for those who face food insecurity,” it asserted.