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Olivier De Schutter : a cultural shift - from food to “systemic” rights

End of mandate (2008-2014) of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to food.
His message : “There is now a genuine right to food movement”. In his final report (General Assembly A/HCR/25/57, January 24, 2014) “The transformative potential of the right to food”, an overview of key issues that have been addressed highlights the need to shift to more sustainable modes of production and consumption and to enable countries to protect the right to food of their populations.

I will rush over sections 29 to 35, giving you a flavor of this fundamental piece of work. The recipe is different in different countries and regions of the world.
What are the major political changes that can restructure the support around agro-ecological, labor-intensive, more resource-efficient (land, water etc) and poverty-reducing forms of agriculture ? The support to small-scale food producers is considered central in (re)building local food systems, the lever to food and revenue security. An interdependence of reforms at three organization and territorial levels are imagined to democratize food security policies.
At local level, the decentralization of the food systems requires “creating links between the cities and their rural hinterland”.
At national level, reinvestment in local food production focused on small-scale producers and establishment of “standing social protection schemes” are highlighted. This is not easy, because governments are sensitive to the interests of their agro-food and related corporations whose agendas largely differ from the above considerations, not to mention the public good.
At international level, a real global integrated coordination of the mentioned reforms (such as a world global social protection floor) demands an “enabling international environment … towards the realization of the right to food”.
The current obstructions to the right to food stem from the fact that “large agribusiness corporations … dominate increasingly globalized markets”. And there is a double dark side to this : the high ecological costs of these policies with direct and indirect links between agriculture, diets, and health. Remember the “Lancet-Oslo University report” and our “equation” linking health, food, environment, and education.

Such lock-ins are obviously a dead-end. Olivier De Schutter reiterates them again and again in interviews, commentaries, articles one can find in Le Monde (“Our world agriculture model is at the end of the rope” April 29, 2014), the May 2014 special issue of Alternative Internationale (What’s on the menu ?, pp 38-40) or the Geneva press release (May 19, 2014) on “Unhealthy diets greater threat to health than tobacco” (see the 2012 full report “The right to an adequate diet : the agriculture-food-health nexus”).
Fostering integrated approaches to these challenges is his next combat : reforming food systems by putting up the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), while joining the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights. That particular connectivity must have some deep resonance in his mind. We hope to see with him the era in which “food is about culture, pleasure, and conviviality”, as he sais.

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For further reading and our own connectivity exercise, I suggest

  • (1) aGter site ( : the June 2014 Editorial mentions the “Committee on World Food Security” (CFS) and its “Voluntary guidelines on Responsible Governance of Land and Natural Resources”, at the initiative of the civic society and associated to the FAO ( aGter is launching a call to social actors and institutions for a 2015 “World Forum on Access to Land and Natural Resources” ( ;
  • (2) “Alternative Economique”, special issue 101 (“Mondialisation et démondialisation”) is out, raising questions such as “why the market is blind to the environment” and “why the free-trade agreements are not really a source of wealth”.

The Michel Serres Institute keeps all the above in mind the year around : 2014 is the International Year of Family Farming ( I suggest each of us takes one initiative to support family farming. Who goes first ?

Ioan Negrutiu, June 20 2014

source image : La Presse Canadienne

Publié ou mis à jour le 21 juin 2014