Observing the Human Right to Food

The United Nations General Assembly adopted
December 10, 1948 the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. In article 25, the Declaration proclaimed the
right to adequate food as an indispensable element of the right of everyone. It
also stressed that motherhood and children are entitled to special care and

In article 11 of the International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which was adopted by the United Nations
General Assembly in 1966 imposes on its States Parties the obligation to take
appropriate steps to ensure the realization of the right to adequate food for
everyone. Furthermore, State Parties recognize the fundamental right of
everyone to be free from hunger and make an obligation to improve methods of
production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of
technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the
principles of nutrition and by taking into account the problems of both
food-importing and food-exporting countries to ensure an equitable distribution
of world food supplies in relation to need.

At the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996 world
leaders agreed to reduce in half by 2015 the number of chronically
undernourished people in the developing countries. On
September 8, 2000 the United Nations General Assembly
adopted the Millennium Declaration and reconfirmed the resolve to halve the
proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.

The World Food Summit entrusted the United
Nations Commissioner on Human Rights with mandate to clarify the content of the
rights related to food and the ways of implementing them. By its resolution
200/10, the Commission established the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the
right to food who has since 2001 prepared annual reports to the Commission on
Human Rights and to the United Nations General Assembly.

In conformity with these global
instruments, the
Uganda government has
taken appropriate legislative measures. The Constitution of 1995 requires that “The state shall take appropriate
steps to encourage people to grow and store adequate food, establish national
food reserves; and encourage and promote nutrition through mass education and
other appropriate means in order to build a healthy state”. And the
Uganda children’s Statute
of 1996 gives the child (below the age of 18) the right to adequate diet.

However, the implementation of these
provisions has fallen far short of expectation. In spite of abundant
technological know-how including high-yielding seeds, fertilizers and
irrigation, food production in
Uganda continues to be
dominated by primitive hand hoes, human energy and rain-fed agriculture at a
subsistence level. The recommendations contained in the modernization of
agriculture strategy have yet to be actively implemented.

Under the influence of external advisors to
accumulate foreign currency for external debt repayment, the government shifted
policy from balancing food production for domestic and export markets to a
policy of export-led economic growth. This has resulted in an increasing export
of nutritious foodstuffs such as beans, sesame and fish traditionally grown for
domestic consumption. The expansion in the production of traditional export
crops of coffee, cotton, tea and tobacco besides the non-traditional ones of
flowers and horticultural products has resulted in extensive de-vegetation with
serious hydrological and thermal consequences.

The export policy has resulted in a
paradoxical situation where
Uganda has become a major
food exporter and simultaneously a hunger ‘hot spot’ country characterized by
severe and persistent food shortages and a recipient of food aid.

An increasing number of Ugandans is not
eating enough in quantity and quality terms. It has been reported that over seven
million Ugandans eat one unbalanced meal a day and over 2.7 million working
children are suffering from extreme deprivation and food insecurity. Ugandans
are also increasingly eating non-nutritious cassava and maize without adequate
dietary supplements. It has been reported that people who consume a lot of
maize develop pellagra – a deficiency disease characterized by cracking of the
skin and often ending in insanity. Those who eat a lot of cassava that contains
no protein develop kwashiorkor and other protein-deficiency diseases including
neurological disorders.

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF)
produced an authoritative report in 2008, showing that twenty percent of
under-five children in
Uganda suffer moderate
and severe underweight, 32 percent suffer moderate and severe stunting while 12
percent of infants suffer from low birth-weight, meaning that their mothers are
undernourished. Children who do not eat balanced diets are handicapped
physically and mentally and cannot learn properly. Clearly this is not the way
to prepare our future generations.

As we prepare to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year, all
Ugandans, especially the leaders, should remember that food being the most
basic of all human rights, there is no room for error. Therefore, all Ugandans
must muster the political will and determination to turn commitments into
reality in order to prepare our children for the rigors of the 21st century.