“The fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger” is established in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the branch of international law inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A rights-based approach to food security imposes obligations on national governments to establish non-discriminatory and non-political laws to ensure that their populations have access to adequate food. Practical measures to deliver these obligations are set out in the Voluntary Guidelines on the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security, formally approved by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2004.

Politicians are themselves aware that a citizen who is unable to feed the household may be provoked into direct action. This sensitivity was demonstrated when the FAO Cereal Price Index doubled in the year to April 2008. Food riots in 23 developing countries prompted a global crisis, culminating in the organisation of the 2009 World Summit on Food Security.

The FAO reports that over 100 countries include either a direct or implied reference to the right to food in their constitutions. Poverty reduction in many Latin American countries, led by Brazil, has been attributed to political commitment to the right to food. India’s Right to Food Act, passed into law in 2013, represents a significant milestone in the drive towards eradication of global hunger.

However, the latest global hunger count of 815 million demonstrates that the gap between principles and reality remains too wide. At the influential “Rio+20” conference in 2012, campaigners reminded world leaders that food security is a right for which governments are accountable, rather than a gift of charity to the poor.

A potentially satisfactory response was embedded in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, subsequently approved at the UN General Assembly in 2015. In the preamble, world leaders stated that: “we resolve, between now and 2030, to end poverty and hunger everywhere.”


more Food Security briefings (updated May 2018)
Food Security Definition and Global Divide
Sustainable Development Goal for Food
Causes of Food Insecurity
Governance of Food Security
Solutions to Food Insecurity
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