Right to Food

The right to food has gained sig­nif­i­cant recog­ni­tion in Africa, Asia, Latin Amer­ica and South Asia, but more national in­sti­tu­tional re­forms are needed to en­sure that the fight against hunger is rooted in le­gal mech­a­nisms.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Sam­ina Wahid Perozani

Ac­cord­ing to the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO), South Asia has the high­est num­ber (304 mil­lion) of the world’s un­der­nour­ished pop­u­la­tion. While this fig­ure has gone down over the years, the num­ber of un­der-nour­ished peo­ple in South Asian coun­tries is still high. De­spite sig­nif­i­cant progress in the past two decades, the food se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Bangladesh, In­dia and Nepal is still con­sid­ered ‘alarm­ing’ with Pak­istan and Sri Lanka cat­e­go­rized as ‘se­ri­ous’. By Madiha Bi­lal Ka­pa­dia

In this re­gard, a two-day re­gional con­sul­ta­tion on food-re­lated leg­is­la­tion in South Asia was held in Kath­mandu, Nepal (July 29-30) where ex­perts and pol­i­cy­mak­ers em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of im­ple­ment­ing a com­pre­hen­sive law on the right to food in South Asian coun­tries. This, they said, was of ut­most im­por­tance if one hoped to re­solve South Asia’s chronic prob­lem of hunger. Any food aid from in­ter­na­tional agen­cies re­quires leg­is­la­tion to be in place to en­sure an ef­fec­tive and trans­par­ent pub­lic dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem. Ex­perts say there is a need to de­vise ad­di­tional co­op­er­a­tive meth­ods to sus­tain food aid, such as the com­pul­sory de­posit of food grains as pro­vided in the Land Act of Nepal or vol­un­tary food stor­age sys­tem un­der the Vil­lage Grain Bank Scheme of In­dia. South Asian gov­ern­ments are in­vest­ing a lot in terms of di­rect and in­di­rect in­vest­ment in food and agri­cul­ture. “Many laws, rules, reg­u­la­tions, poli­cies, and ad­min­is­tra­tive mea­sures have been in­tro­duced, but th­ese are not co­her­ent and com­pre­hen­sive,” said Hasanul Haq Inu, Nepalese In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter and Chair­per­son of the All Party Par­lia­men­tary Group on Food, Agri­cul­ture and Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment.

De­spite Nepal’s In­terim Con­sti­tu­tion that guar­an­tees food

sovereignty, Pak­istan’s Zero-Hunger Ac­tion Plan, Bangladesh’s mas­sive in­vest­ment in so­cial pro­tec­tion or Sri Lanka’s con­sti­tu­tional change, it is hard to see poor peo­ple have three meals a day with the ex­ist­ing le­gal loop­holes and many re­lated is­sues miss­ing.

Oth­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing in the con­fer­ence in­cluded Ga­gan Thapa, Mem­ber of Com­mit­tee on Nat­u­ral Re­sources and Means of the Farmer Con­stituent Assem­bly of Nepal; Hon­ourable Bud­dika Pathi­rana, Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment of Sri Lanka; Chi­tra Lekha Ya­dav, Deputy Speaker, Nepal’s For­mer House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives; Dr Som­sak Pipop­pinyo, Nepal Coun­try Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion; Dr Di­nesh Chan­dra Devkota, for­mer Vice-Chair­man, National Plan­ning Com­mis­sion of Nepal; and Hari Roka, Com­mit­tee Mem­ber, Nat­u­ral Re­sources, Fi­nan­cial Rights and Rev­enue Shar­ing of Nepal’s For­mer Con­stituent Assem­bly.

Count­less peo­ple go to bed hun­gry in the South Asian coun­tries ev­ery day mainly be­cause there is an acute lack of proper leg­is­la­tion that pre­vents ac­cess to avail­able re­sources. At the end of the day, it is im­per­a­tive that peo­ple’s right to food is taken into ac­count. This right must be rec­og­nized for all, in­clud­ing women and mi­nor­ity groups, es­pe­cially dur­ing times of cri­sis, whether eco­nomic or emer­gency, given the re­gion’s sta­tus as the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble place to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and cli­mate change. Some of the chal­lenges faced by South Asia in this re­gard in­clude lack of co­her­ence in poli­cies, co­or­di­na­tion in en­force­ment and, most im­por­tantly, po­lit­i­cal will. This was stated by Lil­ian Mer­cado, deputy re­gional di­rec­tor of Ox­fam Asia, while talk­ing about is­sues per­tain­ing to food se­cu­rity in the re­gion.

Par­tic­i­pants of the con­fer­ence also urged govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives to take ini­tia­tives that pos­i­tively change ac­cess to food in the re­gion. They sug­gested that gov­ern­ments en­force a Com­pre­hen­sive Agrar­ian Re­form Pro­gram (CARP) that helps land­less farm­ers with land ac­qui­si­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion. Fur­ther­more, it would aim at se­cur­ing the avail­abil­ity, ac­ces­si­bil­ity, uti­liza­tion and sta­bil­ity of foods. They said it would en­able gov­ern­ments to be po­lit­i­cally com­mit­ted and bring about a change per­tain­ing to food se­cu­rity leg­is­la­tion.

The con­fer­ence con­cluded that the right to food will only be­come pos­si­ble if a com­pre­hen­sive food law is in­tro­duced along with tools and mea­sures that show the po­lit­i­cal will of gov­ern­ments to solve this is­sue. South Asian coun­tries have a poor track record as far as food se­cu­rity is con­cerned so the need of the hour is to ac­tively work to­wards a law that is im­ple­mented for it to be ac­tu­ally ef­fec­tive. Sam­ina Wahid Perozani is a free-lance jour­nal­ist who con­trib­utes reg­u­larly to var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions.

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