To implement the right to food at the national level, political will and adherence to international standards are key. Turning commitment into reality typically involves passing legislation implementing the right and adopting concrete policies and programs. Among the countries currently working in this area are Bolivia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal and Uganda.
Brazil is a good example of a country that has taken comprehensive action to realize the right to food. Since the 1980s, when a massive civil movement helped return the country to democracy, Brazilians have kept up pressure on the government to realize human rights. Efforts to support the right to food began with the First National Conference on Food and Nutrition in 1986, which was part of the process of drafting the new constitution.
Action accelerated with the election of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003. He initiated the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) program, which combines 31 actions and programs in several ministries aimed at ensuring access to food, increasing family incomes and promoting family farms. In 2006 the Federal Law on Food and Nutritional Security was adopted, establishing a national food and nutrition security system to ensure the right to food.
One of the key components of Zero Hunger is the bolsa família (family grant), a monthly cash grant that currently benefits 12 million poor families. A school feeding program provides meals to 37 million children.
South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution of 1994 is very progressive, pledging in its bill of rights: “Everyone has the right to have access to… sufficient food and water…”. It specifies that the state has to provide for the right of every child to adequate nutrition. The constitution also established a human rights commission with the mandate to monitor all human rights, investigate complaints of violations and seek redress to them and to develop awareness of human rights among the people. Efforts are also under way to develop a legislative framework for the right to food.
Courts in developed countries also interpret and safeguard the right to food. For instance, Switzerland’s highest court, in a case involving illegal immigrants, recognized in 1996 the right to minimum basic conditions, including food, to prevent a situation in which people “are reduced to beggars, a condition unworthy of being called human”.
India’s right-to-food effort accelerated in 2001 with a lawsuit brought by a civil liberties NGO in Rajasthan. It aimed to force use of the country’s food stocks for prevention of hunger during a widespread drought. While India’s Supreme Court considers a final judgment on the case, it has issued a number of significant interim orders. These almost amount to formally recognizing the right to food, because of the orders to the central and state governments to take corrective actions. The court also ordered the governments to inform the concerned population about its legal right to food.
These orders have also had important practical effects. They prompted the implementation of India’s mid-day school meals programme, mandatory for all children in government and government-assisted primary schools. It is the largest school meal program in the world, currently serving more than 50 million cooked meals daily.