The Right to Adequate Food (Fact Sheet No. 34)

Organization(s): FAO, OHCHR
Language: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish
PDF of Resource

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), more than one billion people are undernourished. Over two billion suffer from a lack of essential vitamins and minerals in their food. Nearly six million children die every year from malnutrition or related diseases, that is about half of all preventable deaths. The majority of those suffering from hunger and malnutrition are smallholders or landless people, mostly women and girls living in rural areas without access to productive resources. Although many people might imagine that deaths from hunger generally occur in times of famine and conflict, the fact is that only about 10 per cent of these deaths are the result of armed conflicts, natural catastrophes or exceptional climatic conditions. The other 90 per cent are victims of long-term, chronic lack of access to adequate food.

Combating hunger and malnutrition is more than a moral duty or a policy choice; in many countries, it is a legally binding human rights obligation.

The right to food is recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as part of the right to an adequate standard of living, and is enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights. It is also protected by regional treaties and national constitutions. Furthermore, the right to food of specific groups has been recognized in several international conventions. All human beings, regardless of their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status have the right to adequate food and the right to be free from hunger.

At the World Food Summit organized by FAO in 1996, States agreed to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015. They also called for the obligations arising from the right to food as provided for under international human rights law to be clarified. In response, the Committee on Economic, Social and Social Rights issued its General Comment No. 12 (1999), which defines the right to food. In the United Nations Millennium Declaration, adopted by the General Assembly in 2000, States committed themselves to halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015. In 2004, FAO adopted the Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security, providing practical guidance to States in their implementation of the right to adequate food.

This Fact Sheet explains what the right to adequate food is, illustrates its implications for specific individuals and groups, and elaborates upon State parties’ obligations with respect to this human right.3

The Fact Sheet also provides an overview of national, regional and international accountability and monitoring mechanisms.

Access Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish versions here.

Social Protection and Human Rights