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Indonesia: Production increase must fulfil right to food for all, says UN expert

Indonesia’s successful policies to increase rice production should be linked to fulfilling its obligation to the right to food for all, Hilal Elver, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, has said.

“Indonesia has grown as one of the leading exporters of agricultural commodities and fish. It almost seems as if there is an abundance of food in Indonesia,” said the UN expert in a statement at the end of a 10-day visit to the country.  

“But what strikes me is the irony that in a leading food-producing country 30 per cent of children have stunted growth, and over 92% of the population eat considerably less fruit and vegetables than World Health Organization recommended levels.

“This is telling: food is not only about quantity but also about quality, accessibility and affordability. People living in remote areas have limited access to healthy food, and the poor population in cities are not able to afford fruits and vegetables, which are very expensive,” she added.

The Special Rapporteur noted that Indonesia was dealing with issues relating to over-consumption of staple foods such as rice and corn, and diets with not enough fruit and vegetables. She acknowledged that the Government had responded to the issue by adopting policies aimed at promoting food security and making nutrition a priority. But she said subsidies to achieve rice self-sufficiency did not help to promote a more diverse and healthy diet.

“I commend the efforts of the Government and encourage it to take a holistic approach to its food policies while adopting a human rights based approach to food security. It should also improve its food and nutrition policies by ensuring accessibility to food - economically and physically, availability and adequacy of quality food while eradicating root causes for food vulnerability including poverty. The Government should pay extra attention to those living in remote areas, highlighting the plight of landless peoples and people living in poverty,” the expert stressed.

Although urbanization is proceeding rapidly, the majority of Indonesians, especially farmers, fishing and indigenous communities and peasants live in areas where access to a variety of food, which is necessary for a healthy diet, is often extremely limited.

The UN expert explained that the Government was facing a number of challenges over implementing the right to food. They include conflicts over land ownership as a result of large-scale land and water acquisitions, as well as problems arising from the legalization of traditional land tenure, while fishing communities were becoming more vulnerable because of depletion of fish stocks and illegal fishing. Additional problems arose from industrial palm oil and mining operations, involving development projects that threatened livelihoods, and caused environmental pollution. Indonesia had also been hit adversely by climate change along its extensive coastal zones, she added.

Ms Elver said: “One Government official told me, ‘I agree challenges are opportunities - opportunities for improvement and towards the full realization of the right to food for all in Indonesia.’ So, I encourage the Government to take advantage of this opportunity and work toward improving food policies in ways that are responsive to human rights.”

The Special Rapporteur’s final report will be presented to a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

ENDS

Ms Hilal Elver (Turkey) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the right to food by the Human Rights Council in 2014. She is a Research Professor, co-director of the Project on Global Climate Change, Human Security and Democracy housed at the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies, and global distinguished fellow at the University of California Los Angeles Law School (UCLA) Resnick Food Law and Policy Center.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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