Right to food lacks human rights framework


Malawi seems to be on the right track in ensuring food security but a report on human rights and food observes that there is something missing in the country-the adoption of an overarching human rights framework for the eradication of hunger.


The first and founding president of Malawi, the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda, often emphasised the need for Malawians to always have enough food, decent clothing and to sleep in houses that did not leak. The incumbent President Bingu wa Mutharika also puts emphasis on food security.


But while the human rights and food report by the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development and the Foodfirst Information and Action Network accredits government for its activities that could be said to be part of a human rights strategy, it points to the absence of a human rights framework into which such activities could be fitted.


The report, titled ‘The Human Right to Food in Malawi', reads the report in part: "While the government of Malawi has in fact undertaken many activities that would be included in a human rights strategy, for example, the excellent policy coordination work being done by the Technical Secretariat of the Ministry of Agriculture, it has not placed them within the context of an overarching human rights framework".


The report also observes that though government has ratified the relevant international treaties and enjoys certain constitutional advantages with regards to economic, social and cultural rights, there is need to do more to ensure that the commitments implied by the treaties and the constitutional provisions are implemented.


The report does not, however, lay the blame squarely on government, observing that: "Donors were not sufficiently sensitive to the human right to food or to their own responsibilities in ensuring the government of Malawi meets its human rights commitments. In fact, a sense of scepticism permeated our discussions with donors about the value-added of human rights as an approach for hunger eradication."


It adds that when the Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy (MPRS) underwent its first review in 2003, conclusions highlighted the fact that national policies and programmes had failed in part because of certain actions of the international community.


The report gives the targeting of assistance to non-agricultural priorities by donors and their failure to meet support commitments that had already been incorporated into Malawi's operating budget as examples of negative action by the international community.


One development partner that is making commendable efforts in working with government to promote and protect the human right to food in Malawi is the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) through the CountrySTAT project. One of the principal aims of CountrySTAT, as a tool for analysing, disseminating and accessing statistics on food and agriculture, is to facilitate the analysis of data supply for utilisation accounts and food balance sheets to obtain more derived indicators relevant to nutrition, food and agriculture.


Another principal aim of CountrySTAT is to help countries disseminate data through a communication and information tool at the national and sub-national levels. The right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas as championed by CountrySTAT through the provision of statistics on food and agriculture empowers citizens.


Ensuring food self-sufficiency has been one of Malawi's main achievements of the past three years or so and this has been principally due to government's inputs subsidy programme. President Mutharika has vowed to continue the programme until Malawians are able to sustain themselves financially.


The Nation of September 23 2010 quotes the President as saying: "Subsidies will continue until such a time when my people are able to generate enough income. Africa cannot make it without subsidies."


One way of safeguarding the human right to food is to ensure that policies that drive government efforts regarding food security are based on evidence that can be obtained through an adequate provision of statistical information in food and agriculture. CountrySTAT, championed by FAO, is a very important and strategic partner in that respect.-The author is the assistant executive secretary responsible for communication and information at the Malawi National Commission for Unesco but is writing in his personal capacity