Study: Introducing the Right to Food in University Curricula

In September 2015, leaders from 193 countries gathered in New York, under the auspices of the United Nations, for a three-day Summit to adopt a new transformative development agenda, articulated along 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), covering the period 2016-2030. This historic agreement was the culmination of a complex negotiation process, which saw an unprecedented level of multisectoral consultation. One of the key features of Agenda 20301 is the call for stronger governance and greater emphasis on human rights in all programming and policy efforts at both national and international level, entailing a paradigm shift from acknowledgement of needs to acknowledgment of rights.

With this in mind, as we try to unpack the post-2015 global development framework, it is important to recognise the need for strengthening the science-policy interface – a process to which we believe research and academia must effectively contribute. Paramount to achieving this is a successful intersectoral approach, providing a better understanding of multidisciplinarity and adequately mainstreaming issues such as governance and human rights – widely acknowledged as key in the shaping of a global sustainable future - across relevant science and research disciplines. While it is broadly recognised that hunger is “a function of entitlements and not of food availability as such,” there is still a vacuum in research and development education with regard to introducing a human rights/governance lens to teaching. Students readily discuss the complexity of today’s food systems and are exposed to the multidimensional nature of hunger, but they often fail to understand the structural dysfunctions underpinning today’s challenges, which relate primarily to issues of democracy and social inclusion.

Today’s teaching methods are still very much linked to sectoral approaches. This means that agricultural economists tend to know little about sociology and law (and vice versa) even though all disciplines are extremely important in identifying comprehensive political answers to current and future global challenges. Interdisciplinary cooperation in both research and teaching is key and human rights provide a valid analytical tool for interdisciplinary research. The question is whether or not traditional teaching methods have the capacity to communicate and elucidate the complexity of problems such as the link between development, agricultural investment and trade, and what wold be the best way in which to provide students with adequate critical analysis so as to address these problems in a coherent and comprehensive manner.

It would be advisable to sensitise both lecturers and students on the importance of a human rights perspective in advancing a multi-disciplinary approach to different fields. It would also be desirable to encourage students to increase their capacity for critical analysis and their appreciation and awareness of the need for multi-stakeholder dialogue. The aim is that of sensitising both researchers and civil society alike towards thinking outside the realms of their particular professional discipline and peer group.

Whereas a lot of extremely valuable work has already begun in this sense, and a number of courses set up that mainstream governance and human rights in their curricula, a thorough appreciation of this area as a cross-cutting one remains a challenge.

In an effort to promote the value of human rights teaching across different disciplines, we have chosen to use the right to food as our common thread, tracing the footsteps of its journey from recognition to implementation and sharing some of the learning gained from its success in adding value to current and emerging development issues. As the only economic right to date that has achieved consensus at Government level with regard to its normative content and implications for implementation at national level, this right provides an excellent analytical framework within which to look at the post-2015 agenda, taking into account both public and private interests. Ten years after the adoption of the Right to Food Guidelines, country level experiences indicate just how far the right to food has progressed in piloting new approaches to social and economic development.

Particular note is taken of the seminal work conducted by the FAO Right to Food Team in this area and its Right to Food Curriculum, published in 2009. The latter publication was an important tool addesssing national level practitioners (including legislators, policy decision-makers, civil servants, NGOs and human rights institutions) and aimed at strengthening in-country capacity to implement the right to food. It did not specifically target academia, albeit recognising its critical role in the development of right to food capacity – a role we shall discuss here.

This paper is intended to be an introductory discussion on the value of mainstreaming the right to food into university curricula and the best way in which to do so, with particular emphasis on those disciplines that appear to be at the forefront of current global development thinking.

It is a first step, laying the foundation for more in-depth work, crafting ad-hoc curricula tailored to different interested faculties. We firmly believe that academia has a key role to play in the implementation of Agenda 2030. Some of the potential tasks envisaged could relate to: training future decision makers; influencing policy; informing development education initiatives; legitimising innovative thinking; enhancing critical analysis; strengthening advocacy and communication strategies; acting as a conduit between different sectors and, in particular, bringing research to policy. In this regard, and in the light of the role of human rights in addressing current and future global challenges, we believe that strengthening its mainstreaming across multiple disciplines is fundamental.

Isabella Rae

[All photos Flickr Creative Commons: 1. Maize Field, Lars Plougman (CC BY-SA 2.0); 2. Student, Francisco Osorio (CC BY 2.0); 3. Potatoes, 16:9clue (CC BY 2.0)]