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Food-related Legislation in South Asia

SAWTEE, in partnership with Oxfam and its global campaign GROW, organised a regional consultation on “Food-related Legislation in South Asia” on 30-31 July 2013, in Kathmandu as a part of its ongoing regional programme “Research, advocacy and capacity building on food-related legislation in South Asia”. The major objective of the consultation was to disseminate the findings of the country specific food-related legislation studies undertaken under the programme in five South Asian countries, namely Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

 During the two-day meeting, about 50 representatives from the five South Asian countries discussed findings in the Regional Synthesis Report on food-related legislation in each of the countries. Four categories of food insecurity factors were discussed including production/productivity, consumption/distribution, environment, and cooperation, along with solutions that are in line with national, regional, and international goals. Food security experts and policymakers from the five South Asian countries urged their governments to enact a specialized and comprehensive law on rights to food immediately in order to battle the region’s prevailing and chronic hunger that left more than 304 million people going to bed hungry every day.

 “South Asian governments are investing a lot in terms of direct and indirect investment in food and agriculture. Many laws, rules, regulations, policies, and administrative measures have been introduced but they are not coherent and comprehensive,” said Bangladesh’s Information Minister and Chairperson of All Party Parliamentary Group on Food, Agriculture and Rural Development Hasanul Haq Inu. “Despite Nepal’s Interim Constitution that guarantees food sovereignty, Pakistan’s Zero-Hunger Action Plan, Bangladesh’s massive investment in social protection, or Sri Lanka’s constitutional change, it is hard to see poor people have three meals everyday with existing legal loopholes and many related issues missing,” he said, adding that the rights to food bill in India could be an inspiration for other South Asian governments.

 Lilian Mercado, Deputy Regional Director of Oxfam Asia, noted that South Asia has experienced the second fastest rate of economic growth in the world, enjoying an annual growth rate of six percent on average in the last two decades. Yet poverty has gotten worse as inequality has risen and become more severe. “Studies showed it could grow at the steady rate of around 5.5 percent in the next 25 years. But factors such as climate change, rising inequality, food price hike, population growth, rapid urbanization as well as competition for natural resources could hamper or reverse the progress. It reflects a need for South Asian governments to transform their political pledges on food security into immediate action,” she said. “The bottom line is we must take into account people’s rights to food. It should be central to any law related to food security. It must serve all, particularly women and marginalized groups, even in times of crisis whether economic or emergency given the region’s status as the world’s most vulnerable place to natural disasters and climate change,” Mercado added.

 “South Asia will have to face some other daunting tasks that hinder positive change—coherence in policies, coordination in enforcement, and most importantly, political will.  All those laws the region have in the past, though now outdated, were very good in those times, many still working well now. Except they’re good and effective in the papers because they are either not implemented or fully enforced,” said Dr. Ratnakar Adhikari, Chief Executive Director, South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE). “The specialized and comprehensive rights-to-food law must have clear-cut tools and measures to show strong political will. It’s well known that South Asian countries perform poorly in this area so we can’t ignore this any longer. The law must be implemented to be truly effective,” Dr Adhikari said.

 Participants urged the governments to come up with a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme (CARP). The programme, which focuses on land acquisition and distribution to help landless farmers, is aimed at securing the availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability of foods. Experts believed that it would lead to political commitment and active action on food security-related legislation.

 Also joining the discussion were Gagan Thapa, Member of Committee on Natural Resources and Means of the Former Constituent Assembly of Nepal; Honourable Buddika Pathirana, Member of Parliament of Sri Lanka; Chitra Lekha Yadav, Deputy-speaker of Nepal’s Former House of Representatives; Dr Somsak Pipoppinyo, Nepal Country Representative of Food and Agriculture Organization; Dr Dinesh Chandra Devkota, former Vice-Chairman of National Planning Commission of Nepal; and Hari Roka, Committee Member of Natural Resources, Financial Rights and Revenue Sharing of Nepal’s Former Constituent Assembly.