Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realisation of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security

Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)


What steps are necessary to realise the goal of adequate food for all? The Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) of the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has drawn up the following voluntary guidelines to support Member Nations’ efforts to achieve the realisation of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. They define the right to food security and offer recommendations on creating an enabling environment, accountability and the rule of law.

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life. The four pillars of food security are (i) availability, (ii) stability of supply, (iii) access and (iv) utilisation. Food must be available in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals, be free from unsafe substances, and culturally acceptable. It must also be accessible both economically and physically.

States have the primary responsibility for creating an economic and political environment that assures the food security of their citizens, involving all elements of civil society. The international community can make important contributions too. States party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights should respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate food. This should include:

  • Respecting existing access to adequate food by not taking any measures that prevent such access.
  • Proactively engaging in activities to strengthen people’s access to resources and means to ensure their livelihood and food security.
  • Understanding that a rights-based approach to food security emphasises the satisfaction of people’s basic needs as a matter of right, rather than as one of benevolence.
  • Realising that a rights-based approach means people hold their governments accountable and are participants in the process of human development, rather than passive recipients.
  • Understanding that food security is not only concerned with abolishing hunger, but proposes ways and tools to achieve that goal.

States should safeguard a free, and democratic society to provide an enabling economic, social, political and cultural environment in which individuals can feed themselves and their families in freedom and dignity. It is recommended that they:

  • Facilitate sustainable, non-discriminatory and secure access and utilisation of resources consistent with national law and protect the assets that are important for people’s livelihoods.
  • Support investment in human resource development such as health, education, literacy and other skills training, which are essential to sustainable development.
  • Contribute 20 percent of official development assistance and 20 percent of the national budget to basic social programmes, including food security for vulnerable groups.
  • Provide emergency assistance in a manner that takes into account the importance of food safety, local food production capacity, and the nutritional needs and culture of recipient populations.
  • Establish national human rights institutions that are independent and autonomous from the government.


Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 2004, 'Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realisation of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security’, FAO, Rome