By Saba Joshi.

On 12 December 2016, I had the unique opportunity to participate in a workshop organized in Sihanoukville, in Southern Cambodia by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (RWI) called “10th December Academy” to commemorate international human rights day. RWI’s Phnom Penh office organizes the “10 December Academy” annually in different parts of Cambodia, to impart trainings and awareness on various themes relating to human rights. This year’s workshop was intended to train Cambodian university lecturers, NGO staff, lawyers and judges on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and I was invited to lead a two-hour teaching session on the Right to Food, which is covered under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

While my doctoral research does not directly focus on the Right to Food, much of what I know about this topic is through classes I attended as a part of my Masters programme at IHEID, where I was taught by DEMETER team members Christophe Golay and Christophe Gironde. Also, the last 1.5 years of collaborating with an inter-disciplinary team of researchers in the DEMETER has taught me a great deal about the Right to Food, particularly in Cambodia and Ghana, and the rights-based approach to ‘development’. With some help and inspiration from my colleagues Joanna Bourke-Martignoni and Christophe Golay, I prepared myself for my lecture, and the result was a very enriching experience!

The first part of my lecture focused on legal and political approaches to Right to Food, including a discussion on the role that civil society and national and transnational social movements have played in broadening its normative scope and application in national contexts.  I also presented a brief genealogy of the concept of Food Security and how the broadening of its normative scope has affected our understanding of the Right to Food at the international and national levels. The second part of the session included a discussion and screening of a documentary produced by members of the SNIS research project on large-scale land acquisitions, livelihoods and Right to Food in South East Asia, titled “Rubber in a Rice Bowl.”  The film was useful in contextualizing the interconnections between RTF, food security and land commercialization in Cambodia, and stirred a lively discussion on the rights of indigenous people in Cambodia. After my session, a participant told me: “When you began your talk, I didn’t think this topic was important, but I have learned a lot about the issues from your lecture and the film. The film made me very sad about what is happening to farmers in our country. ”

The workshop was also a learning experience for me, particularly due the several discussions I was able to have with participants who are personally and professionally engaged in human rights related issues in Cambodia. Some of the insights these participants provided me are likely to find a place in my own doctoral research and hopefully, we will also be able to incorporate their perspectives in DEMETER’s research outputs as well.