The right to food should be common sense

My total admiration for human rights defenders is not matched by clarity about why they think the law is A Thing. It isn’t, or it isn’t much more than an idea, unless someone does something with it. The right to food seems to me to suffer in particular from being an excellent idea that hasn’t yet got round to being A Thing that people can do something with. Its a bit broad and its a bit nebulous and its never very clear who should do what about it.

With this somewhat fuzzy notion about what was wrong with the right to food, with colleagues Alex Wanjiku Kelbert and Dolf te Lintelo we wrote a paper about what the human right to food means in ‘common sense’. It’s part of the Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility project so the actual research was done by our colleagues in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Viet Nam and Zambia (for which many thanks).

By ‘common sense’ we meant that a) groups of people agreed with the meaning – it was commonly agreed upon and b) it made sense in everyday life – it was realistic and reasonable, and possibly also realisable.

People living on low and precarious incomes in developing countries do, it turns out, have ideas about the right to food. But these are more often based on faith, membership of a community, and a sense of the innate needs of human beings than on a sense of right deriving from the law. Many people don’t have any sense of the right as relating to their relationship to the state or (less still) the global community.

Human rights defenders can do a lot in these communities and countries to advance the cause of the right to food as part of international human rights law. People believe they have these rights.  But there is work to be done to translate the language of the law into the language of common sense.

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