The Right to Food in a Climate-Constrained World

May 9, 2017

Nearly 800 million people are chronically undernourished – despite the fact that we currently produce twice as much food as we need to feed the world’s population. The problem, according to George Soros Visiting Chair Carmen Gonzalez, is one of distribution and waste, not production. During a public lecture at the CEU School of Public Policy on April 26, Gonzalez explored “the three crises” related to food and agriculture: food security, agro-biodiversity, and climate change.

She stressed repeatedly during her public lecture that food insecurity was due to poverty, not food scarcity, and noted that 80 percent of those who are undernourished reside in the rural areas of the global South. “Women, children, and indigenous peoples are disproportionately represented in the ranks of the rural poor,” she said.  Millions of small farmers in the global South have been rendered destitute due to unfair competition from highly subsidized European and U.S. agricultural producers. Interestingly, some of the most food insecure countries are net agricultural exporters. Gonzalez pointed to IMF/World Bank structural adjustment policies as the reason for the redirection of agricultural production to foreign markets – a change that increased the already strong market power of transnational corporations.

There have been additional threats to food security in recent years, including speculative investments in agricultural commodities, the biofuels boom, and land grabs (by transnational corporations, Northern investors, and middle-income Southern states) in the global South.

Gonzalez argued that international human rights law could be a powerful tool to secure people’s right to food. She spoke out strongly in favor of efforts to, for example, reform trade, aid, finance, investment, and environmental policies to promote human rights; for the elimination of agricultural subsidies in the US and EU that promote industrial agriculture; for a moratorium on land grabbing, and for a curb on speculative trading in agricultural commodity markets. “Incorporating human rights into trade, investment, and environmental agreements is essential to achieve global food security,” she concluded.