KAMPALA – Twenty years on, the Uganda Human Rights Commission, Makerere University, Norway, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and partners have hosted the second national conference on the right to adequate food, amidst calls to integrate the right to food in Uganda’s Food System Transformation Agenda.
National, regional and international stakeholders convened earlier this week at Makerere University for a two-day conference to review Uganda’s efforts towards the implementation of the right to adequate food in Uganda. Among those in attendance were institutions which were also present in Jinja for the first national conference in January 2003, such as Makerere University and the International Project on the Right to Food in Development (IPRFD) of the University of Oslo, Norway.
The 2023 conference brings on board additional key partners like World Food Program, Food Rights Alliance, and the Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights, Kyambogo University among others. Discussions centred on the right to adequate food at a time when the world is experiencing an increased number of people going hungry while food prices continue to soar.
Maj. (Rtd) Kyakulaga Fred Bwino, the State Minister for Agriculture, represented the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Hon Frank Tumwebaze at the conference’s opening and applauded the conveners saying that it was timely, especially when the world is seeking practical approaches to feed a fast-growing population that demands adequate nutritious and safe food and fibre amidst supply challenges which are a result of climate change, pandemics and conflicts.
“Food is critical for the survival of humanity. Failure to provide safe and adequate food to our citizens is a violation of their human rights. Discussions from this conference align with our aspiration to achieve sustainable food transformations and ensure all citizens have access to adequate food,” said Hon Bwino.
The Minister appealed to delegates to identify the gaps in the country’s efforts and propose game-changing solutions that can answer the question of the human right to adequate food for all Ugandans.
FAO’s Deputy Representative Ms Priya Gujadhur who represented the Country Representative Mr Antonio Querido emphasized the urgent need to ensure that every man, woman, and child enjoys the right to be free from hunger and malnutrition in order to develop fully and maintain their physical and mental faculties.
“The right to food is not just a moral duty or a policy directive. It is not just a legal obligation. It transcends this. It is a human right. Yet, the number of hungry people remains unacceptably high,” said Ms Gujadhur.
According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI 2022), 278 million people in Africa suffer from chronic undernourishment. This is 1 in 5 people in Africa. Of these, 260 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa and the majority in East Africa.
She reiterated the need to continue building the capacity of local institutions such as the Uganda Parliamentary Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security that have the potential to advance the country’s agrifood systems transformation. Ms Gujadhur noted that together with civil society organizations such Food Right Alliance (FRA), the Consumers Protection Organization (CONSENT), as well as the Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT), the Alliance could be instrumental in supporting legislation which prioritizes areas which relate to access to healthy and safe food for all.
These include the revival and updating of the 2009 Food and Nutrition Bill; the creation of a strategic food reserve system in Uganda; the creation of food banks and seed banks; legislation and policy on food aid and distribution; establishment of social protection programmes using blended tools; digitalization of food systems operations; strengthening food quality assurance and safety to promote the consumption of safe and healthy diets, among others.
H.E. Gabriel Ferrero de Loma Osorio, the Chairperson, Committee on World Food Security and Spain Ambassador At Large for Global Food Security delivered the keynote address and reminded the audience that the cost of hunger and malnutrition is too high to be ignored.
“Uganda loses 5.6% GDP to hunger,” he observed. “The right to adequate food can no longer be just a progressive aspiration, but is an urgent, concrete and achievable time-bound goal for all governments to meet for all people,” he said.
Ambassador Ferrero suggested a number of actions which governments could take to transform agri-food systems to fully realize the right to food, including country-driven and rights-based solutions, responsible investments in agriculture, innovative approaches to sustainable production and educating and empowerment of citizens to safely claim their rights.
Mr Crispin Kaheru, a member of the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) who represented the UHRC chairperson, said Uganda still lacks specific legislation on food and nutrition. He noted that the Draft Food and Nutrition Bill of 2009 has never been enacted into law and called upon the government to expedite this process so as to facilitate food safety, food security and availability of nutritious foods for all.
Mr Kaheru applauded the government’s efforts to mobilize financial resources, improve policies, build partnerships and improve agriculture but noted concerns that Uganda registered deaths related to hunger in the Karamoja region and an increased number of people affected by hunger in cities and towns.
“Despite Uganda’s commitment to transform her food system and realize the right to adequate food, inequalities in access to food and malnutrition remain developmental concerns. Poverty for instance affects 20.3% of Uganda’s population while 39% of households are still in the subsistence economy. We must amplify the human rights dimensions affecting food systems transformation in Uganda to ensure that all Ugandans have access to adequate food,” he said.
The human right to adequate food is one of the most fundamental human rights that is crucial for the sustenance of the planet, and the prosperity of its all people. In May 1999, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) clarified the normative content of the right to adequate food in General Comment Number 12 (GC 12), specifying that this right is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in the community with others, have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.
Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption by the FAO Council of the Voluntary Guidelines to support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Food. While the adoption, in 2004, of the Right to Food Guidelines, was visionary, anticipating the urgency of today’s most pressing global challenges to achieving sustainable development, progress has been slowed down by conflict, inequalities, diseases and climate change.
Mr Alejandro Grinspun, the head of FAO’s Right to Food Unit in Rome expressed concern over the increasing number of people sliding back into poverty as a result of increased food prices, opining that projections show that every additional 1 percent increase in food prices will push nearly 10 million more people into extreme poverty, putting food further beyond their means.
“Because people living in extreme poverty spend, on average, two-thirds of their budget on food, soaring food prices are hitting them hardest,” said Mr Grinspun.
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