UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food: “Let the CFS be the place where governments take action”

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Speech of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri, at the CFS 47 Side Event

Developing effective policy responses to Covid-19: what is needed and what is the role of the CFS?

Hello, my name is Michael Fakhri. I am the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. I am sorry that I cannot be speaking to you live today but due to the pandemic and time zone differences, I have to provide this video instead.

COVID-19 has not only been a public health crisis, but it has also generated a hunger crisis. The virus is new, but it has been predictably harshest on marginalised people. In fact, the world was falling behind on fully realising the right to food even before the current pandemic.

The number of hungry and undernourished people in the world has been rising since 2015. And the situation is getting worse. The virus continues to ravage humanity; even with new vaccines, it will be some time before the global health situation stabilises and it will be at least a decade before the world recovers economically. Meanwhile, Member States and international organisations have not yet come together to tackle the looming hunger crisis.

Different international organisations are doing their best. But there remains no internationally coordinated action responding to the hunger crisis caused by the pandemic. Not at the General Assembly, not at the Human Rights Council, and not at the Committee on World Food Security. I should add that COVID-19 is not on the Food Systems Summit’s agenda.

In other side events, I have addressed why a human rights approach is needed to tackle COVID-19. I want to focus my remarks here on why the CFS is best positioned to take on the hunger crisis that this virus has exacerbated.

Remember that the CFS was first created in 1974 because of the spread of global famine and hunger. The CFS was reenergised in 2010 because of the food crisis. And today, we face the existential crisis of climate change. This global pandemic is only a practice run for what lies ahead. The CFS is already well positioned to act.

Today’s panelists are able to articulate how the CFS can quickly act based on existing reports and policy instruments. These are things like the HLPE Issues Paper on COVID-19, the CFS Tenure Guidelines, the CFS Framework for Action in Protracted Crisis, the International Labour Organisation Policy Recommendations, and my newest report to the Human Rights Council.

These instruments and others can provide the backbone for a coordinated response. I don’t think the difficulty lies in developing global policy to tackle the pandemic and the hunger crisis. The bigger questions are: Why has not the CFS already acted? Where are the blockages for action? Who is holding up the process?

These are undoubtedly political questions. So new politics are required. New coalitions of governments willing to come together, willing to work together, and push through the CFS. We are all overstretched. Governments are struggling. Workers, peasants, pastoralists, and fishers are struggling. Most acutely, women are struggling because they are having to do more care work. The pandemic has perpetuated cycles of inequality, with women bearing the brunt of the impact and economic shock.

Therefore, I ask the CFS to stop everything that it’s doing right now and focus entirely on the COVID-19 pandemic hunger crisis. Now is the moment to effectively use what little time and energy we have.

No new policy instrument and no new negotiations are going to feed people. Collective action, multilateral coordination, and implementation is what’s going to get us through this. If after the crisis, people are more sick, tired, and hungry, then the CFS will have failed. The international system will have failed. No one will remember or care if this instrument or that instrument was successfully completed.

I hope to see three outcomes from the CFS:

  • Complete commitment to tackling the pandemic and the creation of a COVID-19 Plan
  • The CFS use this plan to coordinate multilateral action amongst Member States.
  • The CFS use this plan to coordinate international organisations. Let me address this a bit more.

Unfortunately, international organisations have an ambivalent relationship to the CFS. Therefore, Member States must come together, use the new COVID-19 plan, and direct the FAO, IFAD, and WFP to work together. Importantly, the International Labour Organisation must be invited as a full partner.

Remember, one key function of International Organisations is to serve the most vulnerable Member States and people, based on what those States and people demand. Let the CFS be place where those demands and plans are made clear. Let the CFS be the place where governments take action.


Register for the side event via: http://tiny.cc/CFSresponse

Learn more about the need of a CFS global policy response to COVID-19