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Dutch cities among 50 global cities to sign Expo Pact

Roundtable: how to improve food security with a right-based approach
Right to Food: Dutch cities among 50 global cities to sign Expo Pact
September 29, 2015 By: F&BKP Office Image: via Flickr (by: Haags Uitburo - Maurice)
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On September 24, 2015, an agenda for the realization of the Right to Food in the context of international peace and justice, with a special focus on the role of cities, was handed to Mr Jaap Smit, King’s Commissioner of the Dutch province of South Holland. The agenda was the result of a roundtable organized by The Hague Institute for Global Justice during the Milan Expo ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’. Cities are in the exact position to implement integrated food policy strategies and increase awareness about the Right to Food among citizens as 54% of the world’s population are urban dwellers. More than 50 cities worldwide will commit themselves on food security targets by signing the Expo Pact on October 15. (Editor’s note: In the meantime, more than 100 cities have signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact on October 15, 2015). 

The roundtable was commissioned by the municipalities of The Hague and Rotterdam and took place at the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e Tecnica Leonardo Da Vinci in the centre of Milan. Twenty participants mainly from Italy and the Netherlands discussed a variety of options to improve the implementation of the Right to Food framework which were centred on three perspectives: conflict prevention, rule of law and global governance.

One of the main conclusions of the roundtable was that cities can indeed play an important role in the realization of the Right to Food. As local authorities they have a direct link with citizens and the role to increase awareness about citizens right to adequate food. Furthermore cities can strengthen local support for integrated food programs and strategies, for example to link urban demand with peri-urban and rural supply. At the same time, cities already work closely together in several national and global networks.

Accountability

According to the UN Voluntary Guidelines of 2004, implementation of the Right to Food framework would not only improve food security, it could also prevent future conflicts. Food insecurity was named as one of the main drivers of conflict around the world and armed conflicts have a dramatic impact on food insecurity, especially for society’s most vulnerable groups. Therefore The Hague, a city that harbours many international peace and justice institutions like the International Court of Justice, has the intention to use its international status to prevent future conflict with a right-based approach on food security, as Mark Verheul from the city of The Hague highlighted at the roundtable.

From a rule of law perspective, the Right to Food legal framework sets the duties and obligations of national governments but also for other duty bearers including corporations, charities or cities, as explained by Abiodun Williams, President of The Hague Institute for Global Justice. It is an instrument to increase the accountability of duty bearers and give individuals a legal instrument to hold duty bearers accountable on their food security commitments. However, this also assumes that for example fact finders, courts and judges need the necessary capacity to work on such cases. It was also mentioned at the roundtable that a legal framework is important because it includes every individual, although it is challenging to make sure commitments on paper are followed by actual implementation.   

Global governance

Next to a legal framework the Right to Food can only be implemented with an interdisciplinary and coherent policy strategy, political courage and leadership, and the right balance between a top-down and a bottom-up approach. Although the Right to Food is a universal human right, formal enforcement mechanisms at national or international levels are scarce. Only a minority of 23 countries have direct references in their constitutions to the Right to Food. Few have developed and implemented legal frameworks, mainly in Latin America. Only five countries fund the Right to Food programs and advocacy worldwide including Spain, Mexico, Germany, Brazil and Norway.

Furthermore, in practice other principles are weighted more heavily. As Roberto Sensi from ActionAid Italy explained, local governments that prioritize food supplies from the region for school meals in public procurement policy must be careful as competition laws could obstruct such measures. He also mentioned that with a globalized world with international food value chains duties and obligations of governments and businesses cannot stop at national borders. The legal framework and policy strategy therefore must take account the extraterritorial impact of decisions and activities on the food and nutrition security situation of individuals living elsewhere.

Thus, the perspective of global governance is also important for the effective implementation of the Right to Food framework. A critical way forward to improve food security and sustainable development would be the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Jose Luis Vivero Pol, a researcher at the University of Louvain, warned at the roundtable that the SDGs don’t directly refer to the Right to Food, yet it does for the Right to Water.

Challenges

This perspective illustrates the controversy that governments have in committing themselves to the Right to Food. They fear that a full realization of the Right to Food could impact the current market-based approach on food security which focuses on increasing productivity. As such and according to Vivero Pol, the US and EU countries are big global players that at the moment see the Right to Food more as a legal framework to protect citizens from the worst cases of food insecurity, like deliberate starvation, instead of a legal framework for a progressive realization of the Right to Food.

As that 80% of food is produced by smallholder farmers, the focus of the Right to Food must be placed on these groups in reaching food and nutrition security. The emphasis should be on cheaper innovative solutions that smallholder farmers can implement on their daily farm activities such as access to insurances and price information on mobile phones, as journalist Chris Arsenault from Thomson Reuters highlighted in his contribution.

Tomaso Ferrando, a researcher at the Sciences Po University in France, also expressed that food insecurity is mainly a problem of distribution failures and power dynamics, rather than a problem of productivity. The Right to Food could be an effective instrument to shift power relations in international and national food systems, according to Ferrando, because it gives vulnerable groups in society the legal tools to ensure access to adequate food.

Expo Pact

The Netherlands is the second largest agricultural export country in the world and it seeks to improve agricultural technology and export its knowledge. This in particular is highlighted at a special Dutch exposition at the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e Tecnica and the Dutch contribution at the Milan Expo in sharing innovative ideas on feeding the world’s population with doing less harm to the environment.

Interestingly, now cities from around the world are placing themselves more and more on the forefront of this debate on food and nutrition security. They already have started to implement measures to fight against climate change where national governments are still negotiating on a global agreement. In Milan, municipalities also express their interest to work on food security and explore how they can implement and stimulate the realization of the Right to Food. On October 15, 2015, more than 50 cities from around the globe will sign the Expo Pact that will highlight their efforts to ensure food security. The Hague and Rotterdam are among them and the agenda as discussed during the roundtable will give them food for thought to concretize a knowledge and action agenda to deliver on their promises.

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