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.
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.