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Right to Food in times of production deficit

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Mvula—The Right to Food does not mean the right to be fed

Annually, Sikochi Zimba, 76, a subsistence farmer from Kamundenga Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) M’mbelwa in Mzimba, produces an average of 600 kilogrammes (12 bags weighing 50 kilogramme each) of maize per year on his two-acre farmland.

Zimba says this gives him enough food for just four months before his nine-member family goes hungry again.

“In those days, I used to produce over 100 bags on this same piece of land. But due to the land degradation coupled with climate change, the harvest significantly has fallen and we usually finish consuming it before the storage,” he narrates.

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In Chiromo Village in T/A Kapichi in Thyolo, Chisomo Banda is facing a similar problem.

Banda, a 26-year-old single mother of two, says Thyolo is one of the districts that have been recently posting under-production of food crops such as maize, rice, cassava, sweet potatoes and sorghum over the recent past.

“And this has also affected our nutrition and food security at household level,” she explains.

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At the height of the 2018/19 flooding, the World Food Programme (WFP) predicted that more than 2.8 million people would face hunger in the worst food crisis in a decade in Malawi, where a staggering four out of every 10 children suffer from stunting.

“People in some affected districts have already started selling their livestock to make ends meet,” WFP said in a press release. “Women are also engaging in more firewood and charcoal selling, which degrades the environment and further aggravates the fragile climate.”

At their recent forum, more than 60 legislators who took part in the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, including guests from Africa and Asia, reasserted their determination to promote laws to break the circle of poverty and enforce the Right To Food in the region.

A local agricultural policy and development expert, Tamani Nkhono-Mvula, defines Right To Food as having regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food.

Mvula emphasises that such food must correspond to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear.

“Government has a duty to respect, protect, fulfil, and to provide for that right all times,” he says.

But the Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) Executive Director, Father Dr. James Ngahy, challenges that without proper laws, Malawians will not be able to demand accountability from government or concerned parastatal organisations to ensure availability of food at all times.

“The Right to Food was declared a Basic Human Right in the UN Declaration of 1948, stating that everyone has the right to a standard of living for health and well-being of self and of their family. But without laws that can empower citizens to hold the government accountable for violation of the Right to Food, attainment of food security will be a nightmare or hang in vacuum,” says Ngahy.

CfSC is a faith-based organisation that promotes research and action on social issues or issues of concern, linking the Christian faith and social justice based on the Christian Social Teaching.

CfSC aims at transforming the unjust structures in Malawian society through research and advocacy so as to ensure sustained change in policies for the betterment of all in line with their human dignity while its priority is to attain a dignified life for each and every citizen of Malawi.

In its recent assessment commissioned with funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Centre discovered that majority of the households do not meet the minimum intake of kilocalories (energy) per person per day.

The World Health Organisation standard recommends that a person should take a minimum of 2 400 kilocalories per day.

However, through its Rural Basic Needs Basket project, CfSC has found that at the turn of the 21st century, nearly two thirds of the Malawian households were below the official poverty line, meaning they could not produce or purchase their minimum requirement of 2, 400 kilocalories per person per day.

Reduced kilocalories intake is one of the indicators of household food insecurity.

“Up to now, there has been insufficient investment specifically targeting food security and nutrition of the extreme poor, who are largely rural people, and often in remote areas. CFSC believes and is convinced that a combination of investments in social protection and additional pro-poor development is the best way to quickly take people out of hunger and extreme poverty,” says Ngahy.

The first World Food Summit in 1974 promised that all hunger would be eradicated within the next ten years. Twenty-three years later at the World Food Summit in 1996, it was agreed to attempt to reduce the number of undernourished people.

Unfortunately, both the right to food and action plans to reduce food insecurity has not had the expected impact on hunger and malnutrition.

Ngahy says it is such a revelation that prompted the Centre to initiate an Enhancing Advocacy on the Right to Food project.

The project aims at shedding more light on the Right to Food principles; challenge existing policies in terms of how they are aligned to Right to Food; and monitor the implementation of the policies, strategies, and programs on the Right to Food.

Ngahy says the Centre is worried with the delays in debating and enactment of the Right to Food Bill into law.

“The Centre has, over the years, been engaging members of Parliament (MPs), stakeholders and various experts on agriculture to debate on the role of Parliament in ensuring the Right to Food for all Malawians and everyone that lives in Malawi. CFSC strongly believes that with support from Members of Parliament who stand and represent the interests of citizens, Malawi can be fully food secured, free from poverty and reduced inequality,” he narrates.

In 2018, the Malawi Government through the Department of Nutrition in liaison with civil society organizations (CSOs) developed a framework law – Food and Nutrition Bill – in a drive to address the problem.

The Bill seeks to effectively guarantee the right to adequate food and nutrition. It is also providing for labelling and fortification of food; provision of nutrition in schools; the establishment of the National Nutrition Council and the Food and Nutrition Fund.

The proposed law states that food must be available, adequate and of good quality; and that the quality of the food must be in line with the specific needs of specific categories of persons.

Ngahy says that is why his organization has been pleading with MPs to consider enacting Right to Food Bill as it is critical in empowering citizens to demand transparency and accountability of food security issues, which remain to be issues of concern

He says his organisation envisages that when the Right To Food bill is enacted into law, every person will have the right to adequate food and nutrition, which includes the right to freedom from hunger and food security.

“We appeal to the MPs to consider recapitalising Agriculture Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc). We believe that recapitalization of the corporation can play a critical role in ensuring that food is readily available to Malawians and at an affordable price,” stresses Ngahy.

The draft bill provides for the enforcement of the law whereby any person may bring an action in the court to prevent or stop any act, omission or other conduct, which is deleterious or injurious to, or impairs the enjoyment of the right to adequate food and nutrition, or otherwise threatens the enjoyment of the right, or is likely to accelerate unsustainable depletion of food resources.

But Nkhono-Mvula clarifies that the Right to Food does not mean the right to be fed, stressing that the government’s role is only to provide a space and meet the conditions for this right to be attained.

“People have the responsibility to work towards it except in disaster situations,” he says.

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