The right to the minimum amount of food

The Right to Food, the images are shocking. People in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia slowly starving to death. Aid organisations from all over the world are trying to deliver food but are running into all sorts of difficulties. The Islamic extremist organisation Al Shabaab almost does not allow aid to Somalia, and according to the aid organisation Save the ChildrenThe aid organisation says that finding and reaching people in need in the most isolated parts of Kenya and Ethiopia is a very difficult task.

But all these people have the right to food, as officially stated in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. According to Dutch politician Jan Pronk it is: "the right to your own choice of food. Of course it is also the right to the minimum amount of food consumed daily. It also means that, as a farmer, you have the right to produce your own food. So there are different aspects. (Jan Pronk was Minister for Development Cooperation in the Netherlands and later UN Special Envoy to Sudan).

Smallholder farmers in Africa are victims

In practice, the situation is different. Small farmers in Africa are victims of land grabbing. Asian countries buy up large amounts of land to produce biofuels for their own use. Refugees in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya have almost nothing to eat, let alone choose what they want on their plate.
Marinke Ros of the aid organisation Save the Children:

"It is really unbelievable that we have to talk about the right to food when it should be obvious. A right really becomes a right when it is recognised by all the parties that have to implement it".


The right to food is protected under international law. In theory, people who see this right violated have the possibility to go to court. Pronk:

 "If human rights are violated in practice, you can of course complain to the courts, but the outcome will be a complicated and lengthy process, and there will be no consequences for those affected. The right to foodis in fact a norm, a directive for international policy".
According to Ros: "The whole legal side of this story is very complicated. What we do as aid organisations is especially concerned with the practical side of the problem. How we can get enough food to the places where it is needed."


Nevertheless, there are some positive signs about the possibility of asserting a right. The Human Rights Commission considers that authorities or instances should be brought to court if their rights have been violated. The commission says, for example, that Shell should be prosecuted for preventing food from entering the Niger Delta. In addition, African countries are now obliged to incorporate certain standards into their national laws. Good news? Pronk is not convinced: "I am not optimistic about the consequences of such lawsuits in the nearfuture.But lawsuits are important to avoid similar situations in the future".

What people can do depends on the situation, says Ros. "You can say 'let's organise a demonstration, let's demand our right to food ourselves'. But this can be very dangerous. People in a refugee camp like Dabaab, or people who are fleeing from local leaders who can make life very difficult for them, there is very little they can do. There it is us as an international community who have to put pressure on."

The Right to Food

"In a world full of wealth, it is a scandal that a billion people suffer from hunger " - Jean Ziegler, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
1948 - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the right to food as a human right under international law.
1966 - The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognizes the right to food.
1996 - The World Summit on Food Security issues the Rome Declaration on reducing hunger by 2015.
2001 - The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights recognises the right to food under the African Charter.
2002 - The African Commission finds Nigeria guilty of allowing Shell oil company to pollute food sources.
2004 - The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) sets voluntary standards for countries regarding the right to food.
Source: Maike Winters

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