Healthy nations begin with a basic diet

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si Commissioner Baai

Eighteen years have come and gone since South Africa ushered in a new democratic social order, yet the question remains unanswered – what has been the best thing that has happened since the fall of a legalised system of race rule in South Africa?

It could be argued, perhaps, that one of the most significant things that emerged post-1994 was the birth of the new South African Constitution in 1996 into which a Bill of Rights was written.

This was also the year in which world leaders came together at the World Food Summit and made a commitment to halve the number of hungry people in the world by 2015.

Consequently, two conceptual approaches became embedded in the constitution, namely, constitutionalism and the entrenchment of fundamental rights.

It then follows that the constitution is therefore the supreme law and any law or conduct that is inconsistent with it is invalid and the obligations imposed by it must be fulfilled.

However, recent national debates have emerged concerning issues pertaining to Bio-Fuels and Agro-fuels.

si Hunger Zimbabwe FOOD AID: Village women receive aid from the charity organisation, Oxfam International, at a distribution centre in Chirumhanzi about 250km south east of Harare in 2009. According to the writer, there is a need to ensure that standards of nutritional adequacy, safety and cultural acceptability of food are maintained in Africa. Picture: AP AP

In this regard it is important to note that section 27 (1) (b) of the constitution states that, “everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water”.

This obligation is extended in Section 27 (2), according to which the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of these rights. In section 28 (1) (c) the right to food is expanded as a right to basic nutrition for children and in section 35 (2) (e) as a right for detainees and sentenced prisoners.

Critically, however, it is estimated that about 14 million South Africans, including the vulnerable groups, have problems with food insecurity.

Yet, we have constitutional mechanisms in SA for realising the right to food.

Uganda, Malawi and Mozambique are in need of the rights-to-food framework laws.

We do believe that hunger can be dealt with through a rights-based approach.

Food security and the right to access food, if promoted and implemented in all sectors of society, would change the lives of our people.

As such, the right to food remains, but the concrete implications differ.

The relevance of the right to food and issues associated with food security gained prominence after the demise of apartheid, a period within which the nation was moving from an authoritarian state to a democracy.

It would appear that food security in turn has ultimately become one of the key foundations of a worthwhile narrative on freedom in South Africa.

Crucially states must simply adopt whatever measures will lead to both the availability and accessibility of adequate food under conditions prevalent in their countries.

Concomitantly, states must put in place measures that address all elements of food security.

These would include measures to ensure the creation and maintenance of a sufficient food supply through agriculture production planning and subsidisation, food import and export planning and sustainable management and use of natural resources and other resources for food production.

There is indeed a need to ensure that standards of nutritional adequacy, safety and cultural acceptability of food are maintained.

Moreover, we need to facilitate access to food and provide it to those who are deprived and vulnerable within society.

Furthermore, we should monitor the nutritional situation in the country so as to inform policy formulation and implementation.

There is a need to prevent discrimination in access to food, particularly for the vulnerable groups.

It has been said elsewhere that the world is getting warmer and the price of oil continues to rise.

Consequently, there are several and different methods that have taken advantage of that and they include the use of biofuel.

But, there are different types of biofuels that we have in production and they are relatively new to the market. It is understood that the crops that are used to produce biofuels are feedstocks.

The feedstocks would be the raw and unprocessed form that the biofuel is derived from.

It is known that common types of feedstocks and crops that are used for the production of biofuels are corn, sugar crops, and forests.

Additionally, even some of the by-products of materials such as those that come from wood can be used in this process. Actually, biofuels can be extracted from both living and nonliving materials.

Significantly, all these materials and original resources must have been organic and not synthesised for them to truly be considered a biofuel.

Some of the more prevalent origins that you may notice in regards to biofuel derivations are algae, decomposed wood and vegetable oil.

The recent explosion of biofuels is a reminder of the extent to which capitalism externalises its costs. Cost externalisation is a clear consequence of commodity fetishism.

Critically, the social and ecological impacts of commodity relations are obscured by the price-form.

Biofuels have been blamed for pushing up food prices, failing to meet environmental standards and increasing demands for water.

On the other hand, compelling research evidence has indicated that social movements regard agro-ecology as central to rural development, even though some communities are of the view that agro- ecology systems tend to be inefficient and lack empirical evidence to support them.

n Baai is a commissioner with the South African Human Rights Commission. These are his personal views and not those of the commission.


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