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A Framework for Analysis: Is the Right to Food realised in my country?

This article offers a simple to use 6-step analysis of the right to food in a specific country, which has been developed to be applied in planning processes for programmes or strategies. The analysis is crucial to identifying the most relevant challenges with regard to food and nutrition security and define the main objectives and the intervention strategy of an organisation in a specific country. It can help to reveal structural problems such as discrimination, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability at various levels, as well as state inaction in certain domains.

This analysis is clearly human rights-based. Rights imply objective standards to measure responsibilities and raise the question of who has the obligation and responsibility to fulfil them. The duty to comply with human rights obligations primarily rests with the state.

Before getting started – some basics

What is the Right to adequate food?

Everyone – every woman, man, and child – has the right to adequate food. The content of this right is clearly anchored in international law. It is realised “when every man, woman and child alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement." (UN CESC General Comment #12)

Many states have agreed to take steps to the maximum of their available resources to achieve progressively the full realisation of the right to adequate food. In order to promote the implementation of the right to food, the "Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the context of national food security" were adopted by 187 states in the FAO Council in 2004.

What are the state obligations with regard to the right to food?

The key obligations of the state are to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food.

To respect the right to adequate food means that the state must not itself deprive anyone of access to adequate food; e.g. by preventing food aid to be provided to a besieged civilian population in an armed conflict.

To protect the right to food means enacting laws and creating mechanisms to prevent the violation of the right by state authorities or by non-state actors, e.g. private persons or companies expelling people from their land.

To fulfil (facilitate and provide) the right to food means taking active measures and setting up policies, institutions, procedures, and programs including the allocation of a maximum amount of available resources to enable people to feed themselves. To this effect, the state also needs to promote knowledge of human rights, in particular the right to food, among state agents and officials as well as the private sector.

If individuals or groups, for reasons beyond their control, cannot feed themselves, the state needs to ensure the right to food by providing food directly. States with extremely limited resources must seek international assistance where necessary to avoid a situation of famine.

Every individual is a rights-holder, fully entitled to demand the state to perform these duties.

The universality of human rights means that they apply to all people without any condition or limitation on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, birth or any other social condition.

One of the most prevalent forms of discrimination is that based on gender. In many societies, gender-based discrimination puts women at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the rest of the population in terms of their socio-economic status and the level of education. Therefore women are left with little authority in taking family decisions which often translates into malnutrition for women and girls. States have the obligation to prevent and eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in relation to ensuring the right to food.

Position paper Rural Development 2012

What areas do I need to look at?

The right to adequate food entails the need to establish the economic, political and social conditions necessary to enable people to achieve food and nutrition security on their own. Since food and nutrition are multidimensional in nature, progress needs to happen in different areas.

The most pertinent areas are:

  • Food production, particularly access to productive resources (land, water, seeds, credit etc.); food processing, distribution, marketing and consumption

  • Employment, working conditions, income

  • Gender equality

  • Health

  • Sanitation

  • Social protection

  • Education

6 steps to assess the realisation of the right to food at the country level

An assessment of the context of the right to food in a country and the extent to which it is exercised should focus on the dominant problems in terms of food and nutrition insecurity. The assessment includes the identification of most affected population groups and the laws, policies, institutions and budget allocation that make the realisation of the right to food for certain groups impossible. This methodology is widely based on the relevant publication of the FAO (FAO, 2006 and 2014):

Right to Food Analysis

Step 1: Assess the causes of food and nutrition insecurity

Key questions are:

  • Who suffers from food and nutrition insecurity [1] and vulnerability, and where do those people live? Looking for disaggregated data per region, rural-urban setting, income, gender, age, or ethnic groups.

  • What are the causes of food and nutrition insecurity or vulnerability?

  • What is their level of awareness regarding their right to food and related government policies, programmes/schemes and criteria for access?

The following sources might be helpful in the assessment:

Step 2: Assess the legal framework

Key questions are:

  • What are the state’s international human rights obligations? Inquire as to whether your country has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which is the main international treaty recognising the right to food.[2] If yes, your country must regularly undergo - every four or five years - a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of progress made within the sphere of human rights. As part of this process, the government under review must prepare and submit a report and then defend it vis-à-vis the UN Human Rights Council. Find and analyse the last submitted report: According to this report, what have been the major advances in ensuring the right to food in recent years? What are the main challenges?

  • Is the right to food recognised in the national constitution and is there a framework law on the right to food or food and nutrition security? Does the law specify the responsibilities of different state authorities and territorial levels? Does it establish the state’s obligation to protect and properly regulate the activities of third parties? Does the law include provisions on non-discrimination, emergencies, policy coherence, and implementation of the law?

  • What are the relevant sectoral laws? To what extent do these laws promote or thwart access to food of the most vulnerable segments of the population?

  • Is the legislation effectively enforced? What elements benefit or hinder its effectiveness?

  • Is the population, and particularly, are the most vulnerable groups aware of their rights and the obligations of the state? Are there accessible and effective mechanisms in place to claim violations of the right to food and seek redress? Are there appropriate remedies to provide due to compensation to the victims of the right to food violations? What are the main obstacles which impede access to recourse mechanisms?

  • Is there customary law on issues such as access to productive resources, land, and water? Is it based on the principle of non-discrimination, for instance, the equality of men and women?

Step 3: Assess the policy framework

The assessment of a country’s policy framework reveals the extent to which policies, programmes and strategies favour the gradual realization of the right to adequate food, and whether the policy framework is responding to the underlying and fundamental causes of the non-realisation of this right vis-à-vis certain groups.

Key questions are:

  • What are the relevant national policies, programmes and social services? Relevant policies/services could include a national food and nutrition security policy/strategy, land policy, agricultural subsidies, health programmes and services or social transfer programmes, minimum wage policy, or paid maternity leave. Do they have a legal basis i.e. in the constitution, a law, or a regulation?

  • Who is entitled to access the programmes/services? What are the criteria for access? Is priority given to the most vulnerable segments of society?

  • How are those policies, schemes, programmes being implemented? [3]

  • Which of the identified programmes or schemes are available in the target area?

  • Which groups and what proportion of the population that is entitled to those programmes can actually access them?

  • Quality of services: e.g. is counselling and regular check-ups provided to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding? Does the agricultural extension service provide the required support?

  • Are there gaps regarding the capacity of government agents, private actors and service providers (awareness about responsibility, commitment, leadership, authority, legitimacy)?

Step 4: Assess the institutional framework

Key questions are:

  • Which major public institutions are responsible for the implementation of the right to food (or policies and programmes on food and nutrition security) at a national, regional and local level?

  • Are the institutions and their staff aware of their task and role as duty-bearers? To what extent does the mandate target vulnerable and food and nutrition insecure population groups? Does the institution have sufficient resources and capacities to fulfil its mandate?

  • Are there other bodies in charge of monitoring the right to food and cases of violation? These could, for instance, be human rights committees or ombudsperson. Are these institutions independent? Do they have enough human and financial resources to realize their missions? To what extent do the institutions monitor food and nutrition insecurity among the most vulnerable groups?

  • Does the state have institutions and mechanisms to hold private actors, especially companies working in the field of biomass production (including food), accountable?

Step 5: Analyse the public budget

The budget is the most important economic policy instrument of any government. Public budget allocations and expenditures, when adequately analysed, reflect the implementation of political commitments towards policy goals and targets, including those that relate to the realisation of the right to adequate food. As analysing public budget on achieving food and nutrition security is a complex task, looking out for already existing analysis can be useful (e.g. the SUN movement is doing budget analysis at country level).

Key questions are:

  • Is the budget transparent? Is detailed information fully accessible at all stages of the budgeting process? What proportion of the overall national budget is allocated to programmes relevant to the right to food?

  • Are the relevant sectors and groups prioritized? Is the state prioritizing the sectors and related services to allocate resources which are relevant for the right to food? Examples are the percentage of public spending on small-scale farmers, or to generate employment and income for the most vulnerable groups. Also, budget allocations for investment in basic health services, disaster risk prevention and emergencies are relevant.

  • What is the trend regarding budget allocation for relevant sectors and groups? Is a growing proportion of the budget targeted to food insecure, vulnerable and marginalised populations? The state must not retrogress from levels of realisation previously achieved.

Step 6: Assess civil society participation

For rights-holders, it is important to have access to complete, updated and impartial information on the issues affecting their livelihoods and their enjoyment of rights. They need to know who to hold accountable for violations of the human right to food.

While marginalised groups often know about government programmes from which they might be able to directly benefit, they usually do not know where to go when they are denied access to these programmes or when the services promised are not performed. Also, they are often unfamiliar with the notion of being rights-holders. This is why the work of civil society organisations in providing training, information, awareness-raising and support to vulnerable groups is so important.

Key questions are:

  • What are relevant civil society organisations or networks? What alliances or networks are there to promote the realisation of the right to food? Do civil society organisations face restrictions in their work by the state or other actors?

  • What is their level of awareness in regard to the right to food? Are civil society organisations aware of the concept of the right to food and the obligations of their government in this regard?

  • Are there mechanisms of consultation in place to support rights-holders and civil society actors in the design, implementation, and monitoring of policies and strategies relevant to the right to food? Are these really being used and do they have an impact on the decision-making process?

The results of this analysis will provide a sound assessment of the extent to which the human right to adequate food is realised at the country level, what the main violations of the right to food are and how you could promote the right to food through your programmes.


[1] For relevant data to assess the food and nutrition security situation, please see Welthungerhilfe´s Orientation Framework Food and Nutrition Security.

[2] Other international human rights treaties of relevance are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa; Additional Protocol (San Salvador) to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Link: (choose „Human Rights by country“)

[3] You will probably need to do interviews with (potential) people you want to assist with those programs and schemes (rights-holders) and with those who provide them (duty-bearers).


Welthungerhilfe (2012): Position Paper Rural Development.

About the Author

Andrea Sonntag is Senior Advisor for Nutrition Policy and the Right to Food at Welthungerhilfe. She has more than 15 years of experience in supporting civil society work on food and nutrition security, including as Program Coordinator in Welthungerhilfe´s Regional Office for South America in Peru. Andrea has a Master´s Degree in Social Anthropology and in Mediation and Conflict Management.

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