Food and nutrition


In line with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR), the right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in a community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate, accessible and available food or means for its procurement (General Comment No. 12). For the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, the right to food is the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear. More specifically, food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (FAO, 2001).

Social protection is one of the policy areas that can contribute to ensuring food security. By ensuring at least a basic level of income security and access to health, social protection systems contribute to different dimensions of food security and nutrition. Especially for highly vulnerable groups of the population, social protection mechanisms contribute to meeting nutritional needs, facilitating access to adequate food, accelerating hunger reduction and increasing levels of human capital, which in turn further improves levels of nutrition, and encourage self-sufficient and independent subsistence for those who are able to work.

Social protection systems can have an impact on the right to adequate food because they address constraints that prevent people from accessing food or procuring it by a variety of means, including a lack of income or income-generating capacity, as well as lack of education, health, productive resources, or opportunities for employment. There are also socially rooted norms and realities such as discrimination and social exclusion that add to the intensity of deprivation of the poor and hungry which requires attention in this context. The Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security foresaw the value of social protection as part of the solution to food insecurity in humanitarian as well as long term development contexts.

A rights-based approach to social protection, ensuring that the considerations about the right to food are incorporated in social protection policies, systems and programmes, especially in contexts where hunger, inadequate nutrition and a lack of food security are pervasive.



Photo credit: “Understanding nutrition in Rwanda” by CIAT (CCBY 2.0 via Flickr).



Social Protection, Food Security and Nutrition in Six African Countries

Evaluations of social protection interventions across Africa often register significant success in improving household food security indicators, but little or no improvement in individual nutritional outcomes. One reason is under-coverage of poor people; another is the low value of social transfers. This paper reviews experiences with social protection in six African countries – Ethiopia, Malawi, […]

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018: Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition

Progress, although limited in magnitude and pace, has been made in reducing child stunting and increasing exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Nonetheless, while the prevalence of overweight in children under five years may not have changed significantly in recent years, adult obesity continues to rise and one in three women of […]

FAO’s Role in Social Protection: Innovation to Achieve Zero Hunger, Reduce Poverty and Build Resilient Communities

The event gathered representatives of FAO partners in social protection to discuss important achievements made thus far – and the way forward – to continue to increase rural prosperity, food security and resilience through the scale-up of social protection systems. Link to video

Arab Horizon 2030: Prospects for Enhancing Food Security in the Arab Region

Food security is universally recognized as paramount to human well-being. But what exactly does it mean, and what is required to achieve food security? A comprehensive definition put forward by the World Food Summit in 1996 holds that “food security [is] a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and […]

Building a Favourable Environment for Institutional Food Procurement Programmes: contributions from Mozambique

The efficiency of institutional food procurement programmes (IFPPs) depends on a series of interconnected conditions to reach their stated goal of linking smallholders with institutional markets and demand (e.g. school meals). These programmes rely on governmental will and the availability of public demand. Furthermore, they require institutional changes and the close coordination of policies and […]

Implementation of Decentralized Food Procurement Programmes and the Impact of the Policy, Institutional and Legal Enabling Environment: the case of PRONAE and PAA Africa in Mozambique

The development and implementation of an efficient institutional food procurement programme (IFPP —which aims to link smallholder producers to institutional markets and promote development of food supply systems—is not a simple or straightforward task. It requires a series of conditions that must be coordinated and matched together. These conditions depend on—but go far beyond—governmental will […]

Adapting Fomento to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa

Although one of the hallmarks of an effective development intervention is its successful implementation across a variety of contexts, programme replication is often overlooked. In a recent project, the International Food Policy Research Institute adapted a well-regarded Brazilian agricultural intervention, Fomento, for implementation and evaluation in two African countries, Senegal and Malawi. The rigorous impact […]

What Makes Urban Food Policy Happen? Insights from five case studies

Cities are rising as powerful agents in the world of food, says a new report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), and they are finding innovative ways to put in place policies that take on challenges in global food systems. The report shows that food policy is no longer the […]

FAO Social Protection Framework

FAO Social Protection Framework presents the Organization’s vision and approach to social protection. FAO recognizes the critical role social protection plays in furthering and accelerating progress around food security and nutrition, agriculture development, rural poverty and resilience building. Link to French version Link to Spanish version

The Future of Food and Agriculture: trends and challenges

The report sheds some light on the nature of the challenges that agriculture and food systems are facing now and throughout the 21st century, and provides some insights as to what is at stake and what needs to be done. What emerges is that “business as usual” is no longer an option but calls for […]


FAO Releases the 2015 State of Food and Agriculture

Today, FAO released its annual report, The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA). The theme of this year’s SOFA report is Social Protection and Agriculture: breaking the cycle of rural poverty. The theme comes at a crucial time. September marked the Sustainable Development Summit in New York, where the post-2015 development agenda was agreed upon. […]

Social Protection and Human Rights