Special Rapporteur on Right to Food Concludes Final Term

By Abby McCrary, Dominican Volunteer

Olivier de Schutter recently concluded his second and final term as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. Special rapporteur positions are given their mandate by the UN Council on Human Rights as impartial observers who “examine, monitor, advise, and publicly report” on the human rights dimensions of their field. Since taking the position in 2008, de Schutter has connected global trends in food systems, and highlighted the systemic challenges therein. He has called for bold changes, such as the move toward food sovereignty, which would allow for communities to take back control and ownership of their own food systems rather than being dependent upon the fluctuations of global trade or unilateral food aid. The local agricultural knowledge and ability of a community to feed itself sustainably is, de Schutter believes, a necessary condition for the full realization of the right to food.

De Schutter shared reflections as his term came to an end:

These have been an extraordinary six years. Very significant changes have taken place in our understanding of hunger and malnutrition, and of what to do about them. We now recognize that poor, food-deficit countries should be supported not by trade and aid alone, but first and foremost by supporting them in their ability to feed themselves. We also have gained a much better understanding of the links between agricultural policies, food, and health, and the question of nutrition or adequacy of diets is now at the top of the international agenda. There is broad acknowledgment too of the need to shift to more sustainable modes of production and consumption: topics such as agro-ecology and how to reduce waste have, finally, entered mainstream discussions. I am proud to have been part of these fundamental shifts, which represent a roadmap for our joint efforts in the years to come.

With de Schutter’s valuable analyses and contributions, the conversation on food has become a fuller, more integrated one. He has skillfully woven together threads from science and climate change, tradition and indigenous wisdom, countries rich and poor, urban and rural contexts. Rather than being driven by the singular quest to produce more and more food, de Schutter created space for objectives such as supporting small-holder farmers to invest in their local food systems, the quality and sustainability of the soil and water, and supplying diverse, culturally-appropriate foods to vulnerable communities. De Schutter has articulated a deep understanding of the interconnectedness the rights of people and planet as the foundation for a sustainable food system. This is the true meaning of food justice.

De Schutter will be succeeded in his position as Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food by Professor Hilal Elver, a Turkish academic based at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and a specialist on environmental issues and climate change.

Read Olivier de Schutter’s Final Report to the UN Human Rights Council