19 January 2009
Human Rights Council
26 – 30 January 2009
Working paper by Mr. Jean Ziegler
“Preliminary report to the drafting droup of the Human Rights Council Advisory
Committee on the Right to Food”
CONTENTS OF THE REPORT
I. STRUCTURAL HUNGER
II. THE RIGHT TO FOOD AND THE CURRENT FOOD CRISIS
A. THE CURRENT FOOD CRISIS
i) Increase in food prices
ii) Increase in poverty
B. CAUSES OF THE CURRENT FOOD CRISIS
i) Speculation on food and agricultural commodities
ii) The conversion of food into agrofuels
iii) Agricultural liberalization and export subsidies
iv) Financial measures made by certain international financial agencies
(such as the International Monetary Fund)
i) Countries in danger
ii) The negative impact on the situation of peasants
iii) Hunger refugees
iv) Hunger in refugee camps
III. STATES‟ OBLIGATIONS
IV. RECOMMENDATIONS ON MEASURES
1. In its resolution 7/14, the Human Rights Council requested the Advisory
“to consider potential recommendations for approval by the Council on possible
further measures to enhance the realization of the right to food, bearing in mind the
priority importance of promoting the implementation of existing standards”.
2. In response to this request, the Advisory Committee, during its first session in
August 2008, created a Drafting Group on the Right to Food (hereinafter, DGRtF). The
members of the DGRtF are: Mr. Bengoa (Chile), Ms. Chung (Republic of Korea), Mr.
Hüseynov (Azerbaijan), Mr. Ziegler (Switzerland) and Ms. Zulficar (Egypt). The
DGRtF held three initial meetings, on 6, 12 and 15 August 2008 (see
A/HRC/AC/2008/1/L.10, par. 43-60). The DGRtF met with representatives of Member
States, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the civil
society. Staff from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human
Rights (OHCHR) also participated in these meetings.
3. Jean Ziegler was mandated to draft a preliminary report on the right to food and the
current food crisis. This preliminary report will begin by presenting the causes and
figures of structural hunger (Section I). The causes and figures will then be addressed,
as well as the consequences of the rise of hunger due to the recent world food crisis
(Section II). The report then describes the States‟ legal obligations (Section III) and it
proposes recommendations on measures to be taken by States and the Human Rights
Council (Section IV).
I. STRUCTURAL HUNGER
4. In the world today, it is an affront to human dignity that many people starve to
death, or live a life not worthy of the name, in conditions of squalor and unable to
escape, with minds and bodies that are not whole. In the period 1997-1999, there were
815 million undernourished people in the world – mainly in the 122 third world
1countries. The shocking news is that in the last decade global hunger continued to
increase. The Food and Agricultural Organization‟s (FAO) 2006 report, The State of
Food Insecurity in the World, showed that structural hunger had increased to 852
million gravely undernourished children, women and men, compared to 842 million the
previous year, despite already warning in 2003 of a “setback in the war against hunger”. Important progress in reducing hunger had been made in few countries. The FAO‟s 2006 report estimates that in 19 developing countries, the number of hungry people
dropped by 80 million over ten years. Yet the FAO found that in developing nations
overall, hunger is on the rise. The overall trend is one of regression, rather than the
progressive realization of the right to food. Every seven seconds a child under the age
2of 10 dies, directly or indirectly, of hunger somewhere in the world. 5. 34 million of the structurally undernourished people in the world live in the
economically developed countries of the North. The countries worst affected by
structural hunger are mostly in sub-Saharan Africa (18 countries), the Caribbean (Haiti)
and Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Democratic People‟s Republic of Korea, and
Mongolia). Most of the victims live in Asia – 515 million, or 24 per cent of the total population of the continent. However, if we look at the number of victims relative to
the size of the population, sub-Saharan Africa is worst affected: there, 186 million
women, men and children, or 34 per cent of the region‟s population, are permanently
and seriously undernourished. More than 33 per cent of Africa‟s youngest children
suffer from the effects of permanent, severe, chronic undernourishment in the form of
stunted physical growth. In South Asia, almost one in every four Asians suffers from
chronic malnourishment, and 70 per cent of the world‟s stunted children live in Asia.
6. Structural hunger, like poverty, is still a predominantly rural problem. Of the 1.4
billion people who suffer from extreme poverty in the developing countries today, 75
3per cent live and work in rural areas. The rural poor suffer from hunger because they
lack access to resources such as land, do not hold secure tenure, are bound by unjust
sharecropping contracts, or have properties that are so small that they cannot grow
enough food to feed themselves. It is clear that reducing structural hunger does not
mean increasing the production of food in rich countries, but rather in finding ways of
increasing access to resources for the poor in the poorest countries.
7. A distinction should be drawn between two concepts: hunger or undernourishment on the one hand, and malnutrition on the other. Hunger or undernourishment refers to
an insufficient supply or, at worst, a complete lack of calories. Malnutrition, on the
other hand, is characterized by the lack or shortage of micronutrients in food which
otherwise provides sufficient calories. These important micronutrients are vitamins
(organic molecules) and minerals (inorganic molecules). These micronutrients are vital
for the functioning of cells and especially of the nervous system. Many of the women,
men and children suffering from chronic undernourishment suffer from what the FAO
calls „extreme hunger‟. This means that their daily ration of calories is well below the minimum necessary for survival. Many people die on a daily basis from starvation.
8. Malnutrition handicaps people for life. It can retard mental and physical development. Malnourishment also heightens vulnerability to other illnesses and almost
always has serious physical and mental effects. Brain cells do not develop, bodies are
stunted, blindness, and diseases become rife, limiting potential and condemning the
hungry to a marginal existence. Children are stunted and do not grow properly if they
do not receive adequate food, in terms of both quantity and quality. A child may be
receiving sufficient calories, but if he lacks micronutrients, he will suffer from stunted
4 growth, infections and other disabilities, including impaired mental development.
What the United Nations Children‟s Fund (UNICEF) calls “hidden hunger” is
undernourishment and/or malnutrition between birth and the age of five, and it has
disastrous effects: a child suffering from undernourishment and/or malnutrition in the
first years of life will never recover. He cannot catch up later and will be disabled for
9. Hunger and malnutrition pass on from generation to generation over the life cycle, as malnourished mothers give birth to babies who are themselves physically and
6mentally retarded and then pass these problems onto their own children. Every year,
tens of millions of seriously undernourished mothers give birth to tens of millions of
7seriously affected babies – Régis Debray has called these babies “crucified at birth”.
This leads to a vicious cycle of poverty and underdevelopment. The impacts of hunger
and malnutrition therefore affect the very possibility of a country to develop. Children
cannot concentrate at school without food in their stomachs. No one can do a
productive day‟s work, physically or mentally, if they are hungry. This means that poor
countries can be trapped in a cycle of underdevelopment.
II. THE RIGHT TO FOOD AND THE CURRENT FOOD CRISIS 10. The right to food is a human right that protects the right of all human beings to live in dignity, free from hunger. It is protected under international human rights and
humanitarian law. As defined by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights in its General Comment No. 12 (1999), “(t)he right to adequate
food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others,
has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its
8 Inspired by this definition, the right to food has been defined as: procurement”.
“the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and
sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear.” (A/HRC/7/5, par. 17)
11. The right to food is, above all, the right to be able to feed oneself in dignity. The right to food includes the right to have access to resources and to the means to ensure
and produce one‟s own subsistence, including land, small scale irrigation and seeds,
credit, technology and local and regional markets, especially in rural areas and for
vulnerable and discriminated groups, traditional fishing areas, a sufficient income to
enable one to live in dignity, including for rural and industrial workers, and access to
social security and social assistance for the most deprived.
12. The current food crisis leads to violations of the right to food in many ways, by threatening all kinds of means by which vulnerable people have access to food. It
destroys in particular their economic access to food, as increases in food prices are
often not compensated by an increase of their income. It also destroys the possibility for
international organizations, in particular the World Food Program (WFP), to ensure that
sufficient food will reach the people most in need.
A. The current food crisis
13. The current world food crisis is characterized by a rapid increase in food prices, which led to an additional 75 million people being severely undernourished in 2008.
According to Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the FAO, 925 million people are
9 Most of therefore gravely undernourished in 2008, compared to 852 million in 2007.
the 75 million people affected by the food crisis are living in urban areas and have been
at the center of the attention since the beginning of 2008. But many small peasants, as
well as refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in camps, are also
suffering from the consequences of the current food crisis.
i) Increase in food prices
14. According to the FAO, between February 2007 and February 2008 the price of wheat on the international market rose by 130%, the price of rice rose by 74%, the price
of soya by 87%, and the price of maize rose by 31%. On average, the price of staple
foods has risen more than 40% in the same period. According to the International
Monetary Fund (IMF), food prices continued to increase significantly in the first six
10months of 2008, reaching a 56% increase from January 2007 to June 2008. The main
problem is that this rise in prices is structural. According to the World Bank, the price
of food products increased 83% between February 2005 and February 2008, and the
11price of wheat rose 181% during the same period. According to the IMF, the price of
internationally traded food commodities increased by 130 % from January 2002 to June
15. There are two important preliminary aspects to note. First, powerful countries like India, China, Egypt and others are, for the time being, able to subsidize the staple foods
for their people and so alleviate the worst impacts of the price explosion. But this
cannot continue in the long term. Many of the poorer countries do not have this
possibility. Haiti, for instance, normally consumes 200,000 tons of flour and 320,000
tones of rice per year. 100% of the flour consumed is imported and 75% of the rice.
Between January 2007 and January 2008 the price of flour in Haiti increased by 83%,
and the price of rise increased by 69%. 6 million out of 9 million Haitians are living in
extreme poverty. Many of them are reduced to eating mud-pies.
16. Secondly, approximately 90% of the staple food export agreements provide that food products are sold „free on board‟ (FOB). There are some that are sold „Cost
Insurance Freight‟ (CIF) but these are in the minority. This means that generally you
have to add the transport cost to the exploding world food prices, which is making the
situation much worse because of petrol costs etc. For example, many of the West
African countries, Mali, Senegal, etc, import up to 80% of their food from overseas,
mostly rice from Thailand and Vietnam.
ii) Increase in poverty
17. The number of poor people in the world increased significantly in the last years.
According to a study of the World Bank released in August 2008, 1.4 billion people in
the developing world were living in extreme poverty in 2005, on less than US$ 1.25 a
13 The report shows that extreme poverty is more widespread than previously day.
thought, as the previous figures – 985 million people living below the former poverty line of US$ 1 a day in 2004 – were based on the cost of living in developing countries in 1993, which is totally inadequate to reflect the real cost of living in these countries
today. 400 million more people therefore lived in extreme poverty in 2005, as
compared to 2004 statistics. The number of people living in extreme poverty has almost
doubled in Africa over 1981-2005, from 200 million to 380 million.
18. The situation worsened during the current food crisis. According to the World
Bank, the food crisis has pushed 105 million people back into poverty in 2008, in urban
14as well as rural areas. As the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition stated, this increase in poverty erases any progress that could have been made towards the
15Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1 target for the reduction of poverty.
B. Causes of the current food crisis 19. The causes of the current food crisis are multiple. Many people cite the increasing
demand for food, such as the sudden shift to produce agrofuels, or a decrease in food
availability. But the increase in food prices in 2007 and 2008 cannot be explained
16without taking due account to the speculation on food and agricultural commodities.
i) Speculation on food and agricultural commodities
20. One of the first causes of the world food crisis is speculation on food and
agricultural commodities, mainly at the Chicago Commodity Stock Exchange where
most of the world food staple prices are negotiated. In November and December 2007,
the worldwide financial markets crashed and over 1,000 billion dollars worth of
investments were lost. Consequently, most of the big speculators, for example hedge
funds, shifted to investing in options and futures for agricultural raw materials and
staple foods. For Heiner Flassbeck, Director of the Globalization and Development
Strategies Division at UNCTAD:
“the recent price hike cannot be satisfactory explained by changed in the fundamentals of global supply and demand. It may be more than a mere coincidence
that the recent price surge started exactly at the same time when the financial turmoil
related to subprime mortgage lending in the United States entered the stage and house
prices there began to collapse. Speculators looking for assets with rising prices may
well have sensed arising strains in world food markets and, based on the expectation
of further rising prices, re-oriented their portfolios towards a greater share of future
17 contracts in food commodity exchanges”.
21. The increase in speculation on food commodities is massive. In the year 2000, the volume of trade in agricultural products at the various stock exchanges was
approximately 10 billion dollars. It was 175 billion dollars in May 2008. During just
one month in January 2008, when the transfer to these markets really started, 3 billion
new dollars were invested at the Chicago Commodity Stock Exchange.
22. If it is difficult to calculate exactly the impact of speculative gains in the explosion of staple food prices. World Bank economists estimate that around 37% of the price
18explosion is due to speculation. Heiner Flassbeck evaluates this amount to be
19double. Jaques Carles, Executive Vice President of the Mouvement pour une
agriculture mondiale (Momagri), has claimed that “on the agricultural markets, 95% of
the operators are purely financial analysts. This financialisation is a true drama for
ii) The conversion of food into agrofuels
23. The very first cause of the world food price explosion is the massive burning of food, wheat, maize, amongst others, into bioethanol and biodiesel (agrofuels).
According to Donald Mitchell, lead Economist at the World Bank:
“The increase in internationally traded food prices from January 2002 to June 2008
was caused by a confluence of factors, but the most important was the large increase
in agrofuels production from grains and oilseeds in the U.S. and EU. Without theses
increases, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and
21 price increases due to other factors would have been moderate”.
24. Donald Mitchell estimates that 70 to 75 % of the increase in food commodity
prices was due to agrofuels and the related consequences of low grain stocks, large land
22use shifts, speculative activity and export bans. John Lipsky, the second in charge of
the International Monetary Fund, estimates that the use of food crops, especially maize,
23to make bioethanol is responsible for at least 40% of the price explosion.
25. The sudden explosion of interest in agrofuels is evident in massive increases in
investment and the setting of ambitious renewable-fuel targets across Western countries.
The United States of America in 2007 alone burned 138 million tones of maize to be
transformed into bioethanol, which means one third of the annual harvest, and it set
targets to increase usage of agrofuels for energy to 35 billion gallons per year. The
European Union requires that agrofuels provide 5.75 per cent of Europe‟s transport
24power by 2010 and 10 per cent by 2020. But these targets cannot be met by
agricultural production in the industrialized countries. Therefore, the Northern
industrialized countries are very interested in production of agrofuels in the countries of
the southern hemisphere, as the key to meeting these needs.
26. This conversion of food into agrofuels has been described as a recipe for disaster
(see A/HRC/7/5, par. 53-58). It is estimated that it takes about 200kg of maize to fill
one tank of a car with agrofuels (about 50 liters), which is enough food to feed one
25person for one year. Producing agrofuels therefore creates a battle between food and fuel, leaving the poor and hungry in developing countries at the mercy of rapidly rising
prices for food, land and water. If agro-industrial methods are pursued to turn food into
fuel, then there are also risks that unemployment and violations of the right to food may
result, unless specific measures are put in place to ensure that agrofuels contribute to
the development of small-scale peasant and family farming.
27. The rapid increase in the prices of food crops also intensifies competition over
land and other natural resources. This pits peasant farmers and indigenous communities
against massive agribusiness corporations and large investors who are already buying up large swathes of land or forcing peasants off their land. The Belgian human rights organization Human Rights Everywhere (HREV) has, for example, documented forced evictions, the appropriation of land and other violations of human rights against communities of indigenous people and people of African descent living in the palm oil
26 In this country, an ever increasing number of peasants‟ plantations in Colombia.
families continue to be illegally displaced from their land by paramilitary units which often act in conjunction with the army and the police. Often these paramilitary units are working for large agro-industry and livestock companies. The situation is particularly severe in the Colombian region of Chocó where the recent massacres of Brias and Pueblo Nuevo have taken place. With the help of the Interecclesiastical Commission for Justice and Peace, an international ethics commission has been created to ensure minimal protection for peasants threatened by eviction and displacement in declared
27humanitarian zones. Forced evictions constitute clear violations of the obligations to
respect and protect people‟s existing access to food, and all corporations involved in the
production of agrofuels should avoid complicity in these violations.
28. Increasingly unconvinced of the positive net impact of the production of agrofuels on carbon dioxide emissions and food security, non-governmental organizations have started to call for a global moratorium on the expansion of agrofuels until the potential social, environmental and human rights impacts can be fully examined and appropriate regulatory structures put in place to prevent or mitigate any negative impacts. The former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, called for a five year worldwide moratorium concerning the production of agrofuels and of agrofuels diesel. The objective of the moratorium was to improve research on agrofuels made from non-food plants, particularly those that can be grown in semi-arid and arid regions, and agricultural waste, reducing competition for food, land and water. The Director General of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and many experts, including Asbjørn Eide,
28supported the idea of the moratorium. For Asbjørn Eide:
“The moratorium should be used to pursue four different objectives: the first would be energy saving measures by developing better understanding of ways and methods to reduce overall energy consumption and to improve energy efficiency; the second would be to move as quickly as possible to “second generation” technologies for