Department or Program

Environmental Studies/Science

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Jay Turner

Additional Advisor(s)

Beth DeSombre

Additional Advisor

Jackie Hatala Matthes


The ultimate purpose of this thesis is to contribute to evidence on good practices for countries to employ in support of food security under the conditions of climate change. Food security, as defined by the World Food Summit of 1996, is "when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” It is usually broken down into four pillars: availability, accessibility, usage, and stability, creating a comprehensive foundation of the elements required for people to be properly nourished. This four-pillar approach is central to the framework of this thesis, as it allows us to understand the different factors contributing to food security, and thus to analyze current policy for how well these policies may address the states’ problem areas under the conditions of climate change.

In order to accomplish this overarching goal, this thesis seeks to answer the following three questions: 1.In what ways does a rights-based approach to food security help prepare countries for the fight against hunger under the conditions of climate change? 2. How do current agricultural and climate change policies contribute to food security? and 3. What should these countries do to improve food security domestically both now and in the future? Answering these questions will be accomplished by through the study of four countries, Bolivia, Kenya, Nepal, and Ukraine.

Agriculture lies at the heart of food security, contributing to each of the pillars for overall improved food security. Although agriculture is most commonly linked with availability, or the supply of food, it also contributes to access, or the economic and physical ability of people to procure food. The linkages between agricultural development and poverty alleviation are complex, but it is generally accepted that agricultural development significantly contributes to lifting people from poverty. In addition, changes in precipitation and temperature with climate change may impact agricultural production. To answer the second question, I depend heavily on historical, political, and geographical analysis to understand the country context and to create the elements by which I assess the policy. I find that while every country studied is taking some action to mitigate or adapt to climate change and support food security through agricultural policy, there is no one-size-fits-all model. Results of the agricultural and climate change policies analysis supports the context-specific approach to formulating and evaluating policy.

In 1967, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) created the legal framework on an international level to assure that everyone gets fed using the individual rights approach. Enshrining the right to food in international law, however, is not enough to ensure the end of world hunger. States that are party to ICESCR have to take action to respect, protect, and fulfil the right. In order to make the right justiciable in domestic courts so that individuals can bring suit when they feel their right to adequate food has been violated, states often integrate the right to food into their domestic legal systems. Each of the case study countries’ constitutions include a provision on the right to food. I find that the context in which the constitution was negotiated has a large impact on the constitutional provision, but that this does not translate into different approaches to food security at the level of agricultural or climate change policy. Based on jurisprudence from Kenya and Nepal, I posit that the right to food is more amenable to the courts when the case involves acute hunger and when there is clear evidence that the government has not done anything to prevent it. Furthermore, in preliminary results, I show that there are significant barriers to accessing justice for the right to food, including through the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has the potential to allow individuals who feel their rights have been violated to seek help on the international level.

Finally, I offer some guidelines for ways to think about creating and assessing agricultural policy. If land rights are a flash point, there needs to be policy put into place that reflects understanding of historical inequalities. Policymakers, whether they be locally-based or foreign consultants should be sensitive to the issue characteristics of any given problem, and try to understand its origin before putting policy into place. Taking into account who farms what, where, and how will help policies be responsive to farmers’ needs as well as to climate change. Determining who is vulnerable to food insecurity, and whether they face seasonal, chronic, or acute hunger will allow for better targeting of these groups. Social safety nets and food and nutrition policies that improve access should be included alongside efforts to increase productivity. To minimize the effects of climate change on food security, early warning systems on natural disasters, agricultural research and extension services, as well as agricultural insurance can support both farmers and consumers.