24 March 2009An independent United Nations human rights expert has welcomed Benin’s efforts to boost food security, while stressing that they should not only increase production but also improve the lives of the country’s most vulnerable. Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, focused his 11 to 20 March visit on the situation of three vulnerable groups: small farmers, the urban poor and detainees. Small farmers, the largest of the three in terms of size, deserved particular attention, according to a news release issued at the end of his visit. His visit took place as strategies are being devised to revitalize the country’s agriculture as well as for rural land reform. In addition, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is entering the final phase of negotiation of an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.Mr. De Schutter welcomed the “significant” efforts by the Government to strengthen food security, particularly in anticipation and reaction to the increase in food prices in early 2008. He also welcomed the plans to revitalize agriculture, and hailed the decision to place agriculture at the centre of the country’s development. “The Special Rapporteur highlights that the agricultural revitalization should achieve not only an increase in total production thus allowing the country to be less dependent on imports due to a diversification gained from food crops, but in particular it should lead to an improvement in the enjoyment of the right to food of the most vulnerable,” according to a news release.In addition to the plight of small farmers, the urban poor and detainees, Mr. De Schutter said that the situation of women and their access to productive resources should be a priority, adding that proposed land reform measures will have an important impact on these groups. He noted that their situation should also be taken into account when evaluating Benin’s entry into regional and international markets. Over the course of his 10-day visit, the Special Rapporteur met with Government officials, the judiciary, officials dealing with the issue of food security, UN agencies and aid organizations. He also talked with farmers and their families, researchers and members of civil society to better understand the food situation in the West African country. Mr. De Schutter, who, like all Special Rapporteurs, carries out his work in an unpaid capacity, will submit a full report on his visit to Benin to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.