Rights-based Food and Nutrition Policies

Orange flesh sweet potato in Uganda: vitamin A levels in sweet potato lead to increased consumption of vitamin A. Photo: HarvestPlus

The root causes and factors leading to malnutrition in all its forms are many, complex and multidimensional and cannot be separated from their broader social, political and economic determinants. Public interest civil society organizations, representing the international food security and nutrition civil society mechanism, have provided a list of major causes in their November 2014 vision statement on nutrition. http://www.csm4cfs.org/working-groups/nutrition/

Most consequences of malnutrition are borne by vulnerable population groups (children, women, landless, urban poor, people living with HIV, people with disabilities, etc.). These consequences contribute to deepening their vulnerability and marginalization and to the intergenerational reproduction of inequalities. The cost of inaction is enormous, first and foremost in human terms but also in economic ones. It therefore becomes an imperative to end malnutrition in all its forms, including undernourishment, stunting, wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity, and diet-related non-communicable diseases. Lasting solutions to the challenges of malnutrition in all its forms have to be based on holistic and multidisciplinary analysis, which combines the political and technical perspectives 1.

Having signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Human Rights (ICESCHR) national governments are to provide a peaceful, stable and enabling economic, social, political and cultural environment in which people can feed themselves in freedom and dignity.

More specifically, national governments have an obligation to:
  • Ensure, without discrimination, that all of its people have the physical and economic access to adequate, safe and nutritious food to ensure freedom from hunger. They must not take any measures that result in preventing such access.
  • Encourage, enable and empower individuals and create the necessary circumstances for people to be able to provide for themselves and their families. This includes taking measures to maintain, adapt or strengthen dietary diversity, healthy eating habits and food preparation, as well as feeding patterns (including breastfeeding).
  • Respect existing access to food and not take measures that prevent access to food.
  • Protect the right to food through measures ensuring that enterprises or individuals do not deprive others of the access to adequate food.
  • Fulfill the right to food through facilitating and providing for the vulnerable and food insecure. This means includes addressing the specific nutritional needs of vulnerable and at-risk groups, and providing safety nets for the hungry and malnourished through direct interventions.

In addition National FNS policies must respect certain key principles:

  • Non-discrimination
Everyone, whatever their race, color, nationality, language, caste, age, sex, is entitled to the right to food. Improving the status of women and promoting their full and equal participation is essential to ensure the right to food.
  • Transparency
People must be able to know what the policies are, how money is being spent and who is benefiting from interventions.
  • Participation
Everyone has the right to have a say in decisions that affect them. In particular, the poor have a right to participate in the design, implementation and evaluation of projects that are intended to assist them.
  • Accountability
Politicians and civil servants should be held accountable for what they do or do not do. People should have ways of holding them accountable, through elections, courts and other means.

Rights-based Food and Nutrition Policies will need to take into consideration the special position and perspectives of women, small scale food producers and consumers.

The full realization of women’s human rights is central to the pursuit of the right to adequate food and nutrition for all. Despite some advances, most women in the world today continue to remain subject to several layers of structural discrimination and violence, at societal, community and household levels. Not only does this have negative implications for the full enjoyment of their human potential, but it also contributes to rendering women and their rights invisible in food security policies, leads to programs that tend to overburden women even more with additional responsibilities, and promotes the intergenerational reproduction of malnutrition.

The promotion and protection of women’s human rights, including the provision of paid maternity benefits, the social recognition of unpaid work – through social and community support mechanisms – and the gendered redistribution of household tasks should be integral parts of an effective strategy for the reduction of malnutrition in all its forms. The prevention of child, early and forced marriages and the protection of women and girls against all forms of violence should also be pursued.

Small-scale food producers (including, small-scale farmers, pastoralists, fisher-folks, agricultural workers, landless farmers, rural women and youth and others) are the main producers of food around the world and their productive contribution is essential to guarantee healthy diets. Nonetheless, they suffer daily violations of their rights. These include resource grabbing, destruction of livelihoods, dispossession of their territories, interference in the use of native seeds, discrimination in the access to social security and other services, unpaid work, among others. Investments in agriculture should include and be sensitive to the needs and potential of small holders, family farming and local food systems.

Consumers have a right to healthy, affordable and accessible food options, and to be protected (particularly children) from aggressive marketing of unhealthy food and beverage that promote diet-related non communicable diseases, as well as from equally aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes. Consumers should be empowered through improved and evidence-based health and nutrition information and education to make informed choices regarding consumption of food products for healthy dietary practices and in support of local food systems. The information provided should contribute to adequate awareness on the critical importance of optimal breastfeeding as one of the most cost-effective intervention to reduce child illness and death and in all its forms as well as on the role of healthy diets in the prevention of non-communicable diseases.


  1. Public Interest Civil Society Organizations Vision Statement on Nutrition, 13 November 2014, CSM for CFS