Will our constitution guarantee: Right to food?
It shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State to attain, through planned economic growth, a constant increase of productive forces and a steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the people, with a view to securing to its citizens (a) the provision of the basic necessities of life, including food… -says our Constitution in Article 15.
The States Parties to the present Covenant... shall take... the measures, including specific programmes, which are needed: (a) to improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge... (Article 11, ICESCR). The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, have the physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement... (General Comment 12, ICESCR)
This morning, Yunus, a rickshaw-puller while sharing his life-struggle mentioned that he owns land of around 3 bighas- and this year he cultivated rice. He and his family were in hope that they will not have to worry about next year's rice. Their field is filled with golden ripen paddy but when he went to the local market he found that considering the market-price they will be in a significant loss. He requested his family to not invest further cutting the paddy… and left for Dhaka. According to him here he would earn cash daily- save and send money to his family. He decided to stop cultivation from next year! They don't want to beg for food…
I am in dilemma… FAO is claiming the number of people suffering from food insecurity in Asia and the Pacific decreased from 581 million to 542 million between 1990 and 2005. But I met Yunus and now believe he is not at all alone… How I put these opposite two realities together!? Is one of them myth while the other a burning reality? Are above commitments only 'wishful word' with no substance in life of a common citizen of Bangladesh? Or is this because having food is a mere basic necessity under fundamental policies of our state with no legal implications? What if it becomes a right or a fundamental right?
It is evident that inclusion of the right to food in our constitution gives a solid basis for the right. Also modifying the constitution requires cumbersome procedures. As we find in Ecuador, Bolivia or in South Africa. In a judgment of a case in South Africa it was assessed whether the measures taken by the state could be considered as conforming to the obligation of the state to realize the right to adequate housing guaranteed under the state constitution.
In both parts of the globe countries have examples that governments can indeed be held accountable for ensuring the effective exercise of the right to food under constitutional provisions on other human rights. However, the extent to which indirect invocation of other human rights can lead to effective protection of the right to food at the national level will ultimately depend on judicial interpretation of the state constitution and whether a given human right will be broadly interpreted so as to also include the right to food.
Bangladesh government already has taken measures ensuring food security and taken initiatives through safety-net programmes ensuring food security for the people living in poverty. Will the government formulate a legal framework to protect peoples' right to food complying with the international human rights instruments?
We had seen in number of districts combating the situation- community-based volunteers prepared a short term action plan with the aim to initiate activities leaded by community people. In few years their hard work was clearly visible and one after other remarkable successes was reported building a movement at the community level. But these are pits and pieces.
Since 2005 the FSN, Bangladesh- a part of global IFSN- with the endeavor of a good number of like-minded organizations working closely with food producing communities and are active in advocacy to address the critical concerns related to the livelihood crisis of the people. The main focus of the network is to deal with the issues that have created negative consequences on the livelihood options and struggles of poor and marginal farmers, women, workers, indigenous communities and the artisans. Where are the changes? What are they and other similar forums really doing?!
The other side can be found in Kendrio Krishok Moitree- a national platform for farmers'. They so far created several conditions for preventing hunger and malnutrition. This is the combined results of various interconnected activities, including- increased productivity of rice fields (using good seed and management practice); production and marketing of vegetable from home gardens, egg and milk from poultry and livestock (using collective and mobile marketing initiative); collective grain banks (fistful of rice) with others. Being community based entity they are contributing to their local development initiatives.
This is no one's sole problem and requires close cooperation of the government, development partners and non-government entities with common citizenry to work towards establishing their right to food. At the global level overcoming challenges to food insecurity has played and continues to play a significant role in the development agenda of Bangladesh. Like Yunus hundreds of thousands of farmers are in great danger living life with limited hope, no dream- knowing no way out. Will they come together and demand for change? Will they become one and demand for realization of all basic necessities in life? Will they claim their right to food as a fundamental right? When?!
The author is an Advocate & Socio-legal Analyst.