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International Mission Focuses on Right to Food in Bolivia

CESR staff member Sally Anne Way took part in an international fact-finding mission to Bolivia in February to address the causes of hunger and malnutrition in the country and investigate the circumstances that produce food insecurity. The mission was organized by Rights and Democracy in collaboration with La Coordinadora de Integración de Organizaciones Económicas, Campesinas y Indígenas y Originarias de Bolivia (CIOEC).

The mission delegation, comprised of Bolivian experts on food security, and six representatives of international organizations working on economic and social rights, including an advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, visited several communities affected by hunger and malnutrition, including the northern part of Potosí (Llallagua, Pocoata, Macha y Colquechaca), Cochabamba (Tapacari) and Chaco (Alto Parapeti). The mission also conducted a range of interviews with representatives of the central government, as well as UN and donor agencies, social movements and indigenous peoples.

"The mission is important because it will highlight the ways in which the human rights framework can provide practical assistance to states as they implement strategies to eradicate hunger within their jurisdictions," said Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, in a message sent to the members of the mission delegation. "I am confident that the mission findings will be a useful contribution to our common struggle."

In a public conference in La Paz on February 14, 2011, members of the delegation presented their preliminary observations and recommendations. The mission team welcomed the strong political will of the Bolivian government to meet its constitutional obligation towards the right to food and to address the issues of food security and malnutrition through its policies on food sovereignty. urged the government of Bolivia to adopt more formal measures to guarantee coherence between constitutional compromises on the right to food and public policy, programs and budget allocations.

However, the mission also highlighted the need to ensure greater coherence between public policy, programs and budget expenditures to encourage greater investment in small-scale agriculture, including strengthening capacities at the municipal level to implement productive projects to support subsistence and small-scale farmers. Policies to support national food production should also ensure consideration of the environment and respect indigenous territories. The mission welcomed how income from the Direct Tax on Hydrocarbons (IDH) was being used for redistributive purposes, but urged that income also be invested to diversify the economy away from dependence on natural resource extraction. Welcoming the government's efforts to address historical injustices through its land reforms, the team urged that land was not sufficient without productive resources and urged the government to prioritize the progressive realization of the right to food. The mission team also called for more space for public debate and greater transparency, access to information and participation in policy and budgetary processes. A full mission report will be released in May 2011.

Compared with other countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region, Bolivia has one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition, which affects 27 percent of children under five. The highest rates are found in rural and indigenous communities. CESR has worked to highlight economic, social and cultural rights in Bolivia, particularly in light of Bolivia's presentation before the 40th session of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in May 2008.

In addition, Sally-Anne Way is co-author of a just-published book, along with Jean Ziegler, Christophe Golay and Claire Mahon, "The Fight for the Right to Food: Lessons Learned," part of the International Relations and Development Series of the Graduate Institute, Geneva.