24 April 2008 - CRINMAIL 977- Special Edition on Food
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Introduction: What do soaring food prices mean for children?
Reports of a ‘global food crisis’ have multiplied in recent weeks, with UN agencies, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) joining NGOs and governments in voicing their concern at spiralling food costs.
World Bank head, Robert Zoellick, said the rapid rise in food prices could push 100 million people in poor countries deeper into poverty.
Meanwhile, the IMF said hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of starvation. Children and other vulnerable groups are especially at risk from food insecurity.
UNICEF expressed concern that the increasing food prices could force families to spend more on less food, and families might remove their children from school so that they can work and earn money.
Stopping school meals due to lack of funds is another concern, since the only semi-balanced meal many children eat is provided at schools, the agency noted.
Why are prices rocketing?
Price rises are caused by a mix of supply and demand factors.
In terms of supply, the production of food is mainly related to climatic factors in major production regions, such as US, Brazil and Australia. There have been some poor harvests in the last two years, but global levels of food production overall are not significantly lower than before.
Climate change, and more changeable weather, is a new factor that affects supply, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In Latin America and most developed countries, the nature of climate change will actually help food production.
Demand is a bigger factor. There are three big drivers of increased demand:
1. Bigger incomes throughout much of the world, particularly in China and India. While the amount of food consumed varies only a little (you can only eat a certain amount of food), higher income often means a more diverse and better quality diet, including increased meat and milk consumption. Meat- and milk- producing animals are often fed on grain, so more demand for meat means more for grain too.
2. A huge increase in the use of food commodities (corn, sugar, palm oil) for bio-fuels. This is because as oil prices have reached record levels, bio-fuel production has become more commercially viable, and many governments have encouraged bio-fuel production out of energy security considerations.
3. There has been a large increase in speculative trading on food commodities in recent years, which has also contributed to price increases.
In short, food no longer just goes into people’s mouths. It goes into more animal’s mouths, into power plants and into cars. There is far more competition for what food is available.
What does it mean?
Food prices are soaring, and there is less food aid to go round.
Some regions will do better than others, with sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia badly affected.
Higher food prices mean different things to different people, but it is the poorest (urban and rural poor in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia) who will suffer the most, and inequality is likely to rise. The impact on individual households has received far less coverage than concerns about riots
If your income is fixed, higher food prices mean you cannot afford everything, so something has to go. That may be education or health.
Impact on children’s rights
There will be impacts across a range of children’s rights areas:
- Hunger: cheaper diets are less diverse and have fewer micronutrients, hence increased risk of stunting; if families cannot afford even enough calories (let alone diverse foods) then acute malnutrition and starvation become possibilities, but this is extreme – what follows below is more likely to occur first
- Health: fewer people can afford treatment where healthcare is not free and indirect costs (transport, etc.) are significant
- Education: enrolment and attendance at expensive secondary level falls, and for poorer families enrolment at primary level may also fall
- Protection: an alternative to cutting spending is to try to increase income, and for the poorest this may mean resorting to more dangerous and exploitative means of earning income: e.g. taking children out of school and sending them to work instead, or engaging in transactional sex.
- Increased poverty, particularly for those already poor in the poorest regions
- Increased inequality and tensions
- Reduced access to/ uptake of basic services due to poverty
- Possibility of food crises affecting only part of the population, in areas where food is available but unaffordable, and in “non-traditional” areas like cities
(With thanks to Michael O'Donnell, Hunger expert at Save the Children UK, for providing analysis).
What can be done?
There are a number of reports, and many recommendations, addressing the food crisis. The views of some vary according to political allegiances. Chatham House has produced a report, however, called Rising Food Prices: Drivers and Implications for Development, which covers key issues. The authors argue that:
- In the immediate term, the priority is to increase both the volume and the quality of humanitarian assistance available to poor people, including by moving away from in-kind food aid and towards cash transfers or voucher systems – although it is important to be clear that there are outstanding questions about how these social protection systems will work, and they should not be seen as a panacea. The issue of compensatory financing may also arise for some countries facing balance-of-payments difficulties.
- In the longer term, the key challenge is to increase the supply of food: the World Bank estimates that demand for food will rise by 50 per cent by 2030, as a result of rising affluence and growing world population. Achieving this challenge will require something close to a revolution, and a massive investment in agriculture in developing countries.
- If supply fails to keep pace with rising demand, then the question of ‘fair shares’ is likely to emerge as a significant global issue. Already, the effect of a burgeoning global middle class switching to diets with more meat and dairy products – both relatively inefficient in terms of grain use – has been to reduce the affordability of staple foods for poorer consumers
Facts and figures – the soaring costs
The following is a snapshot of the increases in food costs between January and March this year:
Wheat: 130 per cent
Soya: 87 per cent
Rice: 74 per cent
Corn: 31 per cent
[Sources: Bloomberg, BBC, UNICEF]
For comprehensive facts and figures, visit a special page on the BBC website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/7284196.stm
The Right to Food - and what a rights-based approach means
Both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights make provision for the right to food. Note that both treaties provide for adequate food, not just food alone, and the Convention goes further, requiring food to be nutritious.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child
Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that States take appropriate measures: "to combat disease and malnutrition including within the framework of primary health care, through inter alia the application of readily available technology and through the provision of adequate nutritious foods..."
As for the right to health, the same Article insists that: "States Parties recognise the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health..."
The only General comment (what is this?) issued by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in respect of health or food, was General Comment number 4 on Adolescent Health
The International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
Article 11 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights says:
"The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food...
...To improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilisation of natural resources...
...Taking into account the problems of both food-importing and food-exporting countries, to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need"
As for the right to health, Article 12 states: "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health."
General comment (what is this?) 12 of the Convenant stipulated:
"The right to adequate food is realised when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has the physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement."
Voluntary guidelines to support the right to food
In 2005, the Council of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) adopted the "guidelines to support the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security."
The objective of the Voluntary Guidelines is to provide practical guidance to States in their implementation of the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security, in order to achieve the goals of the World Food Summit Plan of Action.
They provide an additional instrument to combat hunger and poverty. The Voluntary Guidelines represent an attempt by governments to interpret an economic, social and cultural right and to recommend actions to be undertaken for its realisation. Moreover, they represent a step towards integrating human rights into the work of agencies dealing with food and agriculture.
Read the guidelines here
Download the glossy PDF version here
Visit the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) Right to Food portal: http://www.fao.org/righttofood/portal_en.htm
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
The Commission on Human Rights (now the Human Rights Council) requested the Special Rapporteur to fulfil the following main activities:
(a) To seek, receive and respond to information on all aspects of the realisation of the right to food, including the urgent necessity of eradicating hunger;
(b) To establish cooperation with Governments, intergovernmental organisations, in particular the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, and non-governmental organisations on the promotion and effective implementation of the right to food, and to make appropriate recommendations on the realisation thereof, taking into consideration the work already done in this field throughout the United Nations system; and
(c) To identify emerging issues related to the right to food worldwide (resolution 2000/10).
The current Rapporteur is Mr. Jean Ziegler (Switzerland), although he will soon be replaced by Mr. Olivier de Schutter (Belgium).
Read Mr Ziegler's last report for the Human Rights Council
What is a Special Rapporteur? What are the Special Procedures?
What a rights-based approach means
Human rights, among other things, are about fairness, equality and justice. As such, the spirit of rights requires the fair distribution of food resources. This means that people should not be reliant on charity, or food aid, in order to eat properly over the long term. Examples of what rights 'can do' include:
- The Special Rapporteur can highlight issues, such as the violation of children's right to food. They can carry out country visits, send urgent appeals or letters of allegations to governments. They can also provide advice on technical matters and submit reports to the Human Rights Council.
- The right to food is considered part of the 'second generation' of rights, called economic, social and cultural rights. The spirit behind these rights is that people are entitled to a fair share of a country's resources. They can be enforced in court, and there are examples of cases that have succeeded using international and national human rights mechanisms. Visit ESCHR-Net
- Authors have argued that a rights-based approach "tackles the power issues that lie at the root of poverty and exploitation", and that it helps "shift the focus from the personal failures of the 'poor' to the failure of macro-economic structures and policies implemented by nations states and international bodies." See, for example, here
- The Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Committee, which monitor the CRC and the ICESCR, can issue reports about how States are, for example, implementing the right to food. They can help hold governments to account, and mobilise civil society.
Publications and factsheets
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) - the Right to Food
The Right to Food in Theory and Practice (website)
FAO: Realisation of the Human Right to Adequate Food and the Brazilian Experience: Inputs for Replicability (September 2006)
FAO: The Right to food Guidelines, Information papers and case studies (Book, 2006)
FAO: The Right to food in Practice, implementation at the national level (Paper 2006)
Malnutrition: 2007 World Population Data Sheet (August 2007)
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (June 2007)
Malnutrition: 'Everybody's business, nobody's responsibility' (Save the Children UK, April 2007)
The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2006 - Eradicating World Hunger: taking stock 10 years after the World Food Summit (October 2006)
Save the Children: World Food Day: One third of under-fives around the world suffering from long-term malnutrition (16 Otober 2006)
Child Malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean (July 2006)
Find out how to submit complaints to the UN
Visit CRIN's issues page
Find out how child rights are addressed at the UN, and using other international bodies
Visit our legal database for information about international laws, and laws in your country
Find out more about child rights where you live with our A to Z country list
World Bank echoes food cost alarm (BBC) (14 April 2008)
Rice prices 'to keep on rising' (11 April 2008)
Poor go hungry while rich fill their tanks (The Guardian) (11 April 2008)
"Let them eat subsidies?" (IRIN) (8 April 2008)
World Food Day 2007: Statement from Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (16 October 2007)
Bangladesh: Good harvest not enough to ease food crisis (23 April 2008)
Afghanistan: No food price relief seen for poor Afghans (17 April 2008)
US in $200m 'food crisis' response (15 April 2008)
Nigeria: Desperate children swamp northern cities as food price hikes bite (IRIN) (19 March 2008)
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
World Food Programme (WFP)
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
FIAN - Foodfirst Information and Action Network
ESCR (Economic, Social and Cultural Rights)-Net
IFPRI - International Food Policy Research Institute
Eldis page for Food Security
Child labour: Best Practices in Eliminating Child Labour through Education (April 2008)
Central Africa Hundreds abducted by Lord's Resistance Army (23 April 2008)
Tanzania: Govt 'uses health funds well' (23 April 2008)
United Kingdom: Children's Rights: From 20th Century Visions to 21st Century Implementation? (event, September 2008)
**Quiz special on the Right to Food**
Try our special quiz edition here!
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