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International Food Security Law: Legal Structures and Challenges of the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) (working title)

This PhD project is committed to reconstructing the WFP within a public international administrative law framework. Worldwide, there is enough nutritious food produced to theoretically provide everyone with sufficient amounts of it,[1] but the food distribution does not yet avert hunger and malnutrition. On the one side, there occur vast amount of food losses.[2] On the other side, there are currently around 795 million people worldwide who are undernourished[3] and micronutrient malnutrition causes around 3.1 million annual deaths globally of children younger than five years.[4] International food security[5] is the term conceptualizing these challenges. From an ethical[6] and intuitively any normative perspective, hunger and malnutrition are inacceptable phenomena. International public law in its specific normativity takes up such claims. Against this backdrop, what is the institutional structure already responding to this normative standpoint? International obligations to provide sufficient amounts of nutritious foods become especially critical in emergency settings, and are by and large uncontested for this very reason. This insight allows formulating the research question more precisely: What is the existing international institutional structure averting hunger and malnutrition in emergency settings? Consequently, the thesis will particularly zoom in on the UN WFP within a wider international institutional ecology, because the WFP is at its core mandated with operationalizing food provisions in emergency settings.

The thesis aims at a systematized presentation of the law governing international food security, and a doctrinal reconstruction of WFP operations. First, the institutional development and political thought of the field of international food security will be recounted. Second, the thesis will proceed to restate the fragmented and widespread positive law on international food security in a systematic fashion as a backdrop to the analysis. The focus of the thesis will rest on the WFP mandate connecting the WFP to the wider field of international food security and distinguishing the particular institution from other relevant actors. As a third step, the main administrative instruments of the WFP will be extracted: (1) project design or planning, (2) the procurement decision, and (3) the field level agreements with local implementing partners. Fourth, a selected and especially pertinent accountability issue will be addressed: Does international human rights law grant a subjective legal status to the beneficiaries of WFP operations? Arguments borrowed from political theory especially as regards principles of redistributive justice will support finding an answer to this question. In conclusion, some potential institutionalization aspects and feasibility constraints will be discussed.

The thesis will familiarize international public lawyers to the WFP as a particular UN institution within the wider field of international food security. Given the relevance of food security on the international political agenda (demonstrated e.g. by the fact that the current UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 is devoted to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture), this is a timely contribution. The technique of doctrinal reconstruction will capture some key aspects of the broader discussions on international food security. At least one selected case study will potentially complete this picture for the sake of illustrating the arguments.


[1] Most recently, this question lies at the heart of Martín Caparrós, Der Hunger (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2015).

[2] Cf. internationally FAO, "Global Food Losses and Food Waste: Extent, Causes and Prevention," (Rome2011).

[3] FAO, IFAD and WFP, "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015. Meeting the 2015 International Hunger Targets: Taking Stock of Uneven Progress.," (Rome: FAO, 2015), 8.

[4] The Lancet Nutrition Interventions Review Group, and the Maternal and Child Nutrition Study Group, "The Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition 2: Evidence-Based Interventions for Improvement of Maternal and Child Nutrition: What Can Be Done and at What Cost?," The Lancet 382, no. 9890 (2013): 452.

[5] The 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security, the output document of the World Food Summit from that year, defines food security authoritatively as follows: “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 food preferences for an active and healthy life.” The right to food as positivized internationally in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) inter alia mirrors the concept of food security with subjective entitlements.

[6] For many cf. Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Poverty and Deprivation (Oxford1981).


PhD candidate

Supervisor