On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Shortly thereafter, the UN decided to commemorate that momentous occasion on a yearly basis by establishing December 10 as Human Rights Day. Furthermore, since 1901, December 10 has marked the yearly award ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize, which this year is presented to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for “his resolute efforts to bring the country’s civil war to an end”. This article explores the relationship that exists between global agriculture and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Agriculture, Food Security, and Human Rights
According to Article 25 of the UDHR, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food”. Unfortunately, almost 800 million people throughout the world today suffer from undernourishment. This phenomenon is starker in emerging regions of the world, particularly Asia, where upwards of 10% of the population is undernourished. Food security and undernourishment are pressing world issues, especially as it relates to children, who are the most vulnerable against these socioeconomic phenomena. In fact, almost half of the severe illnesses and fatalities suffered by children throughout the world are due to malnutrition and hunger. Furthermore, millions of children worldwide go to school hungry daily, 23 million in Africa alone.
Given this harsh reality, the UN has made hunger eradication a top priority throughout the last several decades. In fact, the first of the Millennium Development Goals is “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” and the second of the Sustainable Development Goals, which were declared in 2015, is “Zero Hunger”. Food security and nutrition are not only humanitarian issues, but also economic ones. Healthy and well-nourished citizens are an asset, not only to their respective countries, but also to the world in general. Similarly, individuals who enjoy health and food security become active consumers within increasingly prosperous societies as they move forward and integrate into the global economy.
Today, the agriculture industry is the single largest employer in the world accounting for approximately 40% of the global labor force, particularly within rural and emerging regions. However, many of these agricultural operations limit themselves to subsistence farming as they work without electricity, irrigation systems, or advanced machinery. The UN estimates that, throughout the developing world, most farms still rely solely on rainfall as a water source. However, these same farms provide up to 80% of the food supply for these regions.
Investing in agriculture and developing sustainable infrastructure is an essential humanitarian undertaking as well as a great economic opportunity. The development and modernization of essential electric power and potable water grids in emerging regions, such as Africa and Asia, will yield significant dividends over the medium and long term. Similarly, developing new technologies and transportation infrastructure in these regions will strengthen and diversify global production, which will become increasingly important as populations continue growing.