Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Right to Food

21 October 2010

Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Right to Food

21 October 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Right to Food


As threats posed by increasing pressures on arable land continued to impact millions of farmers, fisherman and indigenous people that depend on access to land and water for their livelihoods, it was to vital to move swiftly towards promoting the rights of land users as human rights, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Every year, 5 to 10 million hectares of agricultural land were being lost due to severe degradation, and another 19.5 million hectares were lost for industrial uses and urbanization, Olivier De Schutter told reporters.  “Those who work on land should have rights to stay on land despite shifts in ownership,” he said, warning that 500 million small-scale farmers suffered from hunger partly because their right to land was under attack.

While security of tenure was critical, individual titling schemes were not the appropriate way to achieve it.  In many countries, such schemes encouraged a market for land rights, which gave land to those who could afford it, not those who needed it.  Instead, he called for the strengthening of customary land tenure systems and the reinforcement of tenancy laws, which could improve the protection of land owners, including women and outsiders.

He went on to say that the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment recently put forward by the World Bank and others presented a “top down” process that was weak and not inclusive of human rights.  They also created a distorted view that investment in agriculture meant large-scale plantations, following shifts in land rights.  In his view, investment should be “upstream and downstream” of the production process, supporting small-scale farmers and helping them improve communications and achieve productivity gains.

Earlier in the day, the Special Rapporteur presented his report Access to the right to food (document A/65/281), to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social Humanitarian and Cultural), which placed the question of “land-grabbing” in a much broader framework, he said (please see Press Release GA/SHC/3985).  As part of its work, the Committee explored how Member States and the wider international community could better respect, protect and fulfil the right to food by giving increased recognition to land as a human right, he added.

Drawing on the lessons learned from decades of agrarian reform, he said the report had also emphasized the importance of land redistribution for the realization of that right, which was a promise the international community had made in 2006, “but in many respects seems to have forgotten about”.  He further argued that development models that did not lead to evictions, disruptive shifts in land rights and increased land concentration should be prioritized.

The next steps, he said, would be to include global governance, which was a topic discussed at the recent session of the Committee on Food Security, held in Rome.

Asked to comment on whether the rising food prices were still a serious problem, he said the “very worrying” spike in the cost of wheat and rice was due to speculation of the derivatives market, which Governments had failed to address.  He noted that the Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) estimate of 925 million hungry people in the world did not take into account the impact of the recent price increases, and he believed that figure “is overly optimistic and we might be in a much worse place”.

To a question of where land-grabbing was most prevalent, he said, unfortunately, it took place most often in countries that had weak Government assistance and monitoring systems, including sub-Saharan Africa, where large tracts of land were underutilized.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.