Skyrocketing prices continue to threaten the right to food, UN expert says

10 September 2008 – The global food crisis caused by soaring prices is jeopardizing the right to food, and any potential solution to the problem must be viewed through the lens of human rights, an independent United Nations expert said today.

Presenting his latest report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Olivier De Schutter, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said that international assistance and cooperation are key to achieving that right under international human rights law.

Speculation in the futures market of primary agricultural commodities is one of the factors responsible for driving up the cost of food, he said.

The expert pointed out the role of agrofuel production in food price volatility. But discussions of whether production of the fuels should be halted or promoted in the best interests of farmers should be guided by the consideration of human rights, he added.

Mr. De Schutter stressed that the Council must ensure that acting in the interests of tackling climate change does not impede food protection and protecting human rights.

To date, with the exception of Brazil, production of biofuels has not proven to be a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, given the use of fertile land, water and energy necessary. Mr. De Schutter called on the 47-member Council to quickly adopt global agreements and guidelines to scrutinize agrofuel production.

Although the surge in food prices caught people around the world off guard, the poor are hungry because they cannot afford to eat, not because of a lack of food, he said.

In a related development, three UN agencies are scheduled to brief a special meeting of the Development Committee of the European Parliament in Brussels today on the current food crisis.

Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and Kanayo F. Nwanze, Vice-President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), told participants how they are jointly responding to surging food prices.

The WFP has already announced a package of more than $200 million to help ease hunger in 16 hotspots.

“With poor farmers unable to feed their own families, we are in the danger zone,” Ms. Sheeran said, calling for “extraordinary action” to address the threat of unrest due to lower food stocks.

FAO is helping boost food production in 78 countries, providing seeds, fertilizer, animal feed and other farming tools, in addition to the nearly $1 billion it spends on field activities.

IFAD, meanwhile, has provided some $200 million in loans and grants to help farmers in the developing world, and continues to call for longer-term investment to allow the almost half a billion planters in these nations to increase their incomes and resilience against price fluctuations.


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