UN expert calls for bridging gap between urban consumers and local food producers

Jordan, Zaatari Refugee Camp, 2013. A little girl received dates distributed by WFP. Photo: WFP/Dina El-Kassaby

10 March 2014 – Food systems are too focused on maximizing profits and not enough on promoting the human right to adequate food and freedom from hunger, a United Nations independent expert said today, calling for the systems “to be radically and democratically redesigned” by promoting small farmers and cutting food imports.

“Objectives such as supplying diverse, culturally-acceptable foods to communities, supporting smallholders, sustaining soil and water resources, and raising food security within particularly vulnerable areas, must not be crowded out by the one-dimensional quest to produce more food,” said Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

Addressing the Geneva-based Human Rights Council for the last time before his six-year term ends, Mr. De Schutter called for harnessing people’s knowledge and for designing food systems with different needs and preferences in mind, “The greatest deficit in the food economy is the democratic one.”

With more than six billion people¬ due to live in urban areas by 2050, he called on cities to take food security into their own hands to identify logistical challenges and develop a variety of channels to obtain food that its inhabitants prioritize.

“Food democracy must start from the bottom-up,” the Special Rapporteur said, urging urban consumers to reconnect with local food producers.

“Food security must be built around securing the ability of smallholder farmers to thrive,” he noted. “Respect for their access to productive resources is key in this regard,” he added, calling for priority investments in agro-ecological and poverty-reducing forms of agriculture.

These efforts must be supported by national strategies that cut dependence on food imports, and cultivated in an international environment that is biased against developing countries.

Mr. De Schutter highlighted in his report the promising efforts of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to bring together Governments, civil society, international agencies and the private sector to collectively address the challenges that food systems face, but warned that “the CFS remains the exception in bringing participation and democracy into the global governance arena, and in accommodating different visions of food security.”

“Other global governance bodies must align themselves with the strategic framework provided by the CFS. The WTO [World Trade Organization], for example, must not hinder developing countries undertaking ambitious food security policies and investing in small-holder agriculture,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur also urged developed countries to move away from export-driven agricultural policies and “leave space instead for small-scale farmers in developing countries to supply local markets”.

He also urged these governments to restrain their expanding claims on global farmland by reining in the demand for animal feed and agro-fuels, and by reducing food waste.

Special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.


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