23 The challenges of monitoring hunger and food insecurity in the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda

New tools, new roles and responsibilities

Organizers: Agenzia Italiana per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo (AICS); EU Representation to the UN Organisations in Rome; United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID); FAO


Food security has many dimensions and spans diverse sectors, posing a challenge for its measurement. The governments of Italy and the United Kingdom, and the European Union, in collaboration with FAO Statistics Division, propose a side event to showcase ongoing efforts to improve food security measurement and strengthen the link between evidence and policy making in the areas of food and nutrition. In the context of the new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, FAO is the custodian of a number of indicators that have been endorsed for global monitoring of SDG2 including the “Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU)” and the “Prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the population, based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES).” The Italian Government has supported FAO´s work in the Sahel region of Africa to strengthen countries’ capacities to derive food security indicators from national surveys, the EU has supported the development of consistent Food Security and hunger related Statistics, and DfID has supported the development of the Food Insecurity Experience Scale. The event will showcase these complementary efforts and provide an opportunity to discuss FAO’s support of countries in monitoring SDG 2.1 to ending hunger and malnutrition.

Key speakers

Mr Pietro Gennari – FAO Statistics Division

Mr Martino Melli and Mr Paul Gasparini - Agenzia Italiana per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo (AICS)

Mr Vincent Gainey and Ms Nina Hissen, the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfID)

Mr Jean-Pierre Halkin – European Commission DEVCO

Main themes/issues discussed

The event focused on FAO´s work, supported by resource and implementation partners, aimed at strengthening countries´ food security statistics capacities and supporting countries in monitoring SDG 2.1: “By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.”

Challenges and opportunities facing FAO as the custodian agency of several SDG indicators were discussed, including the “Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU)” and the “Prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the population, based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES)”, which have been endorsed for global monitoring of target 2.1.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda applies to all countries and calls for disaggregation of data to capture inequalities within countries.  FAO will work with countries to produce sub-national estimates of the Prevalence of Undernourishment – a long established indicator for national monitoring – using food consumption data from large-scale household surveys.  FAO´s new tool for measuring food access, the FIES, produces results that can be disaggregated for sub-populations within countries and that are comparable across countries.
While the responsibility for generating the data to inform the SDG indicators rests with national institutions, international agencies have a key role as ‘custodian’ of the indicators, in particular in continually providing the necessary oversight for quality and (for methodological standards, capacity development, data collection and dissemination of internationally comparable data).  The Inter Agency Expert Group on SDGs is an important forum to promote stronger coordination between national and international statistical agencies.

It is important to promote the alignment of national and regional indicators with global SDG indicators and support countries in defining national SDG monitoring mechanisms.  FAO is helping countries improve survey tools, data collection efforts and analytic capacities to enable them to produce SDG 2 indicators and will be investing heavily in capacity development (e-learning, on-site training, south-south cooperation, and technical assistance) with greater emphasis on promoting the link between data production and data utilization.

Summary of key points

All speakers emphasized the need to improve the policy relevance of food security and nutrition data.  Food security indicators and monitoring initiatives have proliferated, but the link with policy is unclear, and internationally agreed standards have been lacking.  Statistical capacity is still limited and often fragmented across different sectors. There is a need to build capacities of national institutions to analyze food security data from different sources and sectors in an integrated way and use it to inform and guide policy. 
Given the challenges of the SDG agenda, it is important to build partnerships aimed at coordinated efforts and cost efficiencies.   Multi-purpose surveys can be promoted involving the complementary use of indicators to improve understanding of the drivers of food insecurity.  The FIES, for example, can be included in multipurpose surveys with other measures to improve understanding of the causes of poor food access and its potential effects on food consumption and nutritional outcomes.  The Minimum Dietary Diversity score for women (MDD-W) was cited as a new globally comparable indicator of dietary quality with great potential in this regard. 

Key outcomes/take away messages

Now is the time to discuss with countries on the value of adopting the SDG indicators, as many are already developing SDG monitoring plans.  In addition to producing data, global partners, and FAO in particular, must promote its utilization for decision making.  SDG monitoring should help identify the DRIVERS of change.  The FIES was recognized to be a tool that is policy relevant and meets internationally agreed standards.
Challenges include improving coordination to avoid duplication of efforts and implementing processes that build bridges between the “silos” (for example, that shed light on impacts of agriculture programs on food insecurity and malnutrition).