On the 28 February, the Department of Nutrition, HIV and Aids conducted a consultation in Lilongwe on the draft Food and Nutrition Bill (2016), with participation from Government, civil society, UN and Development Partners. The meeting was supported under the innovative UN Right to Food Window, with funding from the Government of Flanders, established to follow up on the recommendations to Malawi of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
Providing a summary of the main provisions of the revised Bill, Justice Redson Kapindu noted that it defines and guarantees the right to adequate food, in line with Malawi’s international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Bill, which defines vulnerable persons without providing an exhaustive list, outlines State and non-state obligations, including responsibilities of individuals, families, local communities, NGOs and the private sector to take all necessary steps for the realization of the right of every person to adequate food and nutrition.
The Bill also outlines the role of the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) in receiving and investigating complaints concerning alleged violations of the right to food, together with the role of the courts in enforcing the right to food. The Bill contains detailed sections on food safety, labelling and fortification, nutrition in schools and the establishment of a National Food and Nutrition Council and a Food and Nutrition Fund.
Justice Kapindu referred to a series of regional consultations on the Bill which took place in 2016, conducted by the Government in collaboration with the Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET), where a number of comments and suggestions were received. The drafters had also benefited from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Guide on Legislating for the Right to Food and received a number of written submissions on the Bill.
Neal Gilmore, UN Human Rights Adviser, welcomed the progress with the Bill, particularly inclusion of a legal framework on the right to food in the Bill in line with Malawi’s international rights law obligations, along with much strengthened definitions.
According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. such framework laws provide for a coherent and integrated approach, through the creation of an independent council; ground national policies and programmes in a society-wide consensus, increasing their survival in the face of changes in Governments; provide for predictability and ring fencing of resources for food and nutrition programmes and strengthened accountability, and oversight of food and nutrition security programmes.
Neal Gilmore noted that the Bill contains detailed provisions on food safety and consumer protection, which are often better contained in separate regulations. He also called for the powers and functions of the National Food and Nutrition Council to be defined more clearly, as these currently require the Council to monitor, investigate, research, educate, lobby, advise and report on issues concerning the right to food.
Some participants at the meeting called for further consultations around the Bill and for the provisions on nutrition in the Bill to be strengthened. together with greater conformity with relevant sectoral policies.
Noting that work on the Bill had started in 2006, and given the need to take forward the draft legislation, Director of the Department Nutrition, Felix Phiri, called for a specific meeting in March at which relevant stakeholders could meet to further revise and finalise the Bill.