End of mandate: looking back - and onward

[3 June 2014] GENEVA – On May 30th, Olivier De Schutter finalized the second term of his mandate as the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

He took up the position on May 1st, 2008, and was renewed for another three years in 2011. Special Rapporteurs can only be renewed once. He will be succeeded in the mandate by Prof. Hilal Elver, a Turkish academic based at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and a specialist on environmental issues.

"These have been an extraordinary six years", O. De Schutter said as he finalized his mandate. "Very significant changes have taken place in our understanding of hunger and malnutrition, and of what to do about them. We now recognize that poor, food-deficit countries should be supported not by trade and aid alone, but first and foremost by supporting them in their ability to feed themselves. We also have gained a much better understanding of the links between agricultural policies, food, and health, and the question of nutrition or adequacy of diets is now at the top of the international agenda. There is broad acknowledgment too of the need to shift to more sustainable modes of production and consumption: topics such as agroecology and how to reduce waste have, finally, entered mainstream discussions. I am proud to have been part of these fundamental shifts, which represent a roadmap for our joint efforts in the years to come."

"Much work remains to be done, of course. But there are promising signs that things are moving in the right direction. Small-scale food producers' organisations are more visible in decision-making than they ever were. Local initiatives and food policy councils are blossoming, creating the conditions for a 'transition from below' towards more sustainable food systems. As illustrated by the new Brazilian Food Guide -- which, spear-headed by prof. Carlos Monteiro, is far more lucid and promising than the traditional 'dietary guidelines' taught in schools --, we are paying greater attention not just to what we ingest, but also to how and when we eat, and we are recognizing that food is also about culture, pleasure, and conviviality. Many encouraging developments of this type could be mentioned."

Olivier De Schutter also discussed the future. "In the next few years, I shall be looking forward to helping put the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) on track, building bridges between the scientific community and public and private decision-makers, in a permanent dialogue with civil society. Food systems are being fundamentally reformed, and alternatives are emerging to the mainstream food system: it is more important than ever that decisions are made on the basis of the best science available". On the Panel, which he will co-chair with Olivia Yambi, De Schutter will be working with such luminaries as Molly Anderson, Bina Agarwal, Corinna Hawkes, Stephen Gliessman, Pat Mooney, Maryam Rahmanian and Cecilia Rocha, among other world-class experts on food systems. Johan Rockström, internationally one of the most renowned specialists on ecological sustainability, shall also contribute to the work of the Panel. "I am also delighted that, beginning in 2015, I shall join the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The committee brings together some of the best jurists in the area of economic, social and cultural rights. It will be a privilege to contribute to the work of this body at such a crucial time, as the Committee shall be dealing with the first individual communications filed under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which entered into force just over a year ago".

In closing, Olivier De Schutter addressed his thanks to those who supported him throughout his mandate. "Whether within or outside the UN system, a large number of organizations and individuals provided support and encouragement, and they shared with me their knowledge and their enthusiasm. There is now a genuine right to food movement. It has grown significantly over these past six years, and it shall continue to grow in the future. I am indebted to all those who, often without public recognition, have contributed to making it what it is: a force for change."