Groundnut collection near Chiana, Ghana. Photo by: Axel Fassio / CIFOR / CC BY-NC-ND

“A zero hunger world is possible by 2030.” This ambitious goal seems to contradict the prevailing reality: For three consecutive years, hunger rates have risen, reaching 821 million people in 2017, and bringing us back to the numbers of a decade ago. Malnutrition is at its highest point in history, leading to hundreds of millions more — particularly those living in poverty and extreme poverty — to suffer from stunting, wasting, and obesity.

Today, those affected by hunger and malnutrition face multiple violations to their right to adequate food, including a lack of consistent physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, culturally acceptable, and nutritious food to meet dietary needs. They face obstacles to securing an adequate income to purchase the food needed to feed themselves and their families in a dignified manner, as well as access to resources — water, land, seeds — necessary to produce food. All are legal entitlements given to us by international human rights instruments.

More striking still, many laws and policies support industrial, monoculture modes of agricultural and food production that benefit corporations while harming the environment. These also tend to foster the consumption of ultraprocessed foods, proven detrimental to the health and well-being of populations across the globe.

Meanwhile, those defending their rights to feed themselves and their communities face retaliation, criminalization, and persecution. Not surprisingly, environmental and land defenders find themselves facing high levels of repression, threats to life, and even death.

These circumstances do not lie in a vacuum. They are the result of misguided policies and the lack of commitment by governments to ensure fundamental human rights. As echoed by a civil society report presented to the 45th session of the Committee on World Food Security this week, the right to food is arguably the most violated human right globally, and maybe the least visible one.

The right to food is not an isolated right however, as it is rooted in the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights. How otherwise would an indigenous community feed itself without access to its ancestral land?

The three of us believe that the holistic realization of the human right to food in all regions around the globe, and across all sectors, is crucial. Think for a moment about the rights of agricultural workers, who play a critical role in achieving food security and fulfilling the universal human right to adequate food. Yet they are among the most food insecure, facing formidable barriers to the realization of their human rights, often working under dangerous conditions without labor and employment protections.

Similarly, the right to access clean drinking water and sanitation remains a key pillar in the battle for the right to food and to health. Beyond issues of sanitation and hygiene, access to water is fundamental for farming, fishing, and livestock. Yet, the grabbing of natural resources such as water, seeds, and land continues to rise in all regions, particularly in the “global south,” at the expense of the millions of peasants and rural communities that have sustainably used and managed these resources — rivers, lakes, and groundwater — for generations.

New regional and international instruments such as the guidelines on the right to water in Africa and the recently adopted United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants are glimmers of hope in the current legal vacuum to enforce a broader understanding of the human right to food.

And within this context, policymakers continue to disregard the increasing influence of corporations at all levels, including in food production and consumption habits, as well as the negative impact of their activities on the planet.

In Latin America, where severe food insecurity has increased, together with childhood obesity, this topic is being seriously tackled by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights through its special rapporteurship on economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.

Created last year, the rapporteurship is finalizing a report on the issue, while negotiations are taking place at the U.N. Human Rights Council to regulate business operations.

The trend of benefiting private sector’s interests over those of the population is threatening not only our lives — but the lives of future generations in a way that we cannot afford.

During this week of negotiations at the Committee on World Food Security, governments are discussing key policies and issues around the alarming increase of global food and nutrition insecurity. This year we have the opportunity to discuss specifically the impact of the right to food guidelines, 14 years after their adoption, and the dire need for their due implementation.

Governments and other participating actors simply cannot lose track of the human rights-based approach while the planet is struggling with the adverse impact of climate change, ongoing protracted crises, and severe human rights violations.

The ambitious Sustainable Development Goal 2 to end hunger by 2030 will simply be unachievable if we do not take human rights more seriously.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the authors

  • Hilal Elver

    Since 2014, Hilal Elver has served as the special rapporteur on the right to food, responsible for carrying out the right to food mandate as prescribed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Hilal is an international law professor and a Global Distinguished Fellow at the UCLA Law School Resnick Food Law and Policy Center, She is also as a research professor at the UC Santa Barbara, where she has been distinguished visiting professor since 2002.
  • Soledad García Muñoz

    Soledad García Muñoz is the special rapporteur on economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights since August 2017. She is an attorney of Argentine nationality with a specialty in fundamental rights.
  • Nadia Aït Zaï

    Nadia Aït Zaï, born in Algeria, serves as an expert in the Economic and Social Rights Subgroup of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. She also teaches at the Faculty of Law at the University of Algiers. She has devoted her career to women's issues and children's rights. In 2002, she created the Centre d’Information et de Documentation sur les Droits de l’Enfant et de la Femme/ Fondation pour l'Egalité, (The Information and Documentation Center on the Rights of the Child and the Woman / Foundation for Equality).