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Food security policy needs data

September 22, 2014

With the development of the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals there is a need for better base data for measuring progress against the targets and informing governments to take policy decisions. This is particularly true in the area of food security and Nutrition where Household surveys and livelihood assessments form the basis of decision making.

A diverse group of partners working in this area met in the European Commission Humanitarian Office to discuss how they could work together, exchanging tools and methodologies and discussing synergies that might lead to better linkages between systems and an understanding in particular of new opportunities afforded by Mobile technologies both tablets and phones.

This is not just a question of using new technologies but includes the knowledge management around such data including issues such as ownership, sustainability and communication

The use of live and automated telephone surveys by the Wood Food Programme was particularly interesting, this video shows the project in action. Individuals are provided with mobile phones and then given a credit on the phone each time they respond to the monthly survey assessing their food security.

The World Bank presented a new software "Survey Solutions"designed for developing and managing surveys including distribution from the cloud to individual survey agents tablets and backup via 3G networks or wifi where available.

The Food Security Group working with Save the Children shared their experience with HEA methodology for assessing livelihoods. This identifies a number of different groups based on livelihood zones (geographic regions where livelihoods are similar) and then identifies groups by income level for further survey.

All three systems look at food consumption and identify those at risk of malnutrition. Whilst there are opportunities to link the measurements they each serve a distinct purpose. The Phone survey gives an immediate situation week by week into food security in a vulnerable community, the Survey solutions software is advantageous for one off surveys reducing the cost of design and logistical implementation but ensuring a higher level of accuracy of sampling. HEA provides an approach which is quick and cost effective but perhaps takes approximations in sampling but is more affordable.

But technology is changing this whole area of data acquisition. For example the acquisition of some data types such as market prices has changed dramatically. The European Joint Research Centre is currently running a trial to capture market data from a number of African countries. Through a cloud based system prices can be collected by professional researchers but also crowdsourced. The data is reviewed by a moderator before publishing. The current system can be viewed online at

Existing food price data and other indicators affecting resilience and food security are brought together in the food security portal – a service provided by IFPRI and supported by the European Commission. The portal also includes models showing food price volatility, which provide an alert to a food security issue. An increase in food price does not indicate a food security problem on its own, it is more likely the fluctuation of the price (its volatility) that shows this.

NEPAD presented its work with Food Security Information Systems in particular how it was helping to articulate the demand, rationalising the various supply systems and strengthening the supply side at the national and local levels. They are currently planning a Knowledge Management platform for CAADP for Food Security and Nutrition.

CILLS-AGRHYMET presented new developments in the network ECOAGRIS an initiative to link a number of food security information services in West Africa.

Cutting across all the activities the work of IPC – the integrated food security phase classification works to consolidating food security severity classification. It sets a series of standards and definitions to consolidate food security and nutrition situation analysis. It does this at four levels: technical consolidation, classifying severity, communications for action and quality assurance.

CTA presented our work on ICT4Ag and our knowledge management work on food security and nutrition. In particular the shift to use of mobile technology was emphasised, the myriad of applications which potentially collect valuable indicators such as market prices were featured. An element of the discussion stems from the policy brief produced on second generation market information systems and the need to include business models supporting collection of baseline data on food security. The work with CAADP on data communication at a national level was also discussed together with our work with Regica in linking food security information systems. One area which was new to the group was CTA's work with the Global Alliance on Open Data for Food security and Nutrition. (


The key messages

  • Different survey approaches to answer different types of questions but at least definitions of severity are being established through IPC
  • Technology has transformed costs of survey allowing remote surveys and instant backup of field surveys.
  • Common platform for surveys by world bank reduces costs by up to 1000 times
  • Automated and live phone calls allow frequent monitoring of vulnerable groups
  • Crowdsourcing could play a role in data acquisition but only with quality controls
  • There are a myriad of Food Security Information systems but there are a number of initiatives at regional and continental levels in Africa to harmonise these.