Although many countries have already established information systems that provide FIVIMS-related information at the national level, in many others there is still a lack of locally collected information that has a direct bearing on the situation of food-insecure and vulnerable households and individuals. To encourage greater effort in this area, the World Food Summit Plan of Action calls for the development and further elaboration of food insecurity and vulnerability information and mapping systems at both the national and global levels.
At the national level, strengthened and more integrated food insecurity and vulnerability information systems will provide better and more up-to-date information to the policy-makers and members of civil society concerned with food security issues at all levels in their country, and will facilitate the assessment of policy and programme options for improving the situation. National systems will also be called on from time to time to provide information that will enable the international community to monitor and guide progress towards meeting the global targets set at the World Food Summit.
The goal of national FIVIMS is to contribute to the reduction of food insecurity and vulnerability.
The purposes of national FIVIMS are to facilitate different user groups' access to more comprehensive information that is up-to-date and easy to interpret, in order to enhance food security policy formulation, improve the design and focus of interventions directed towards reducing food insecurity and vulnerability and facilitate the monitoring of progress in achieving these goals, through providing specific and precise information about the nature and extent of food insecurity and vulnerability, the underlying causes and the changes that are occurring over time.
The immediate objectives of FIVIMS are to:
Summit commitments relating to the establishment of food insecurity and vulnerability information and mapping systems
Commitment Two, para 20 (a) states that "governments, in partnership with all actors of civil society, as appropriate, will develop and periodically update, where necessary, a national food insecurity and vulnerability information and mapping system, indicating areas and populations, including at local level, affected by or at-risk of hunger and malnutrition, and elements contributing to food insecurity, making maximum use of existing data and other information systems in order to avoid duplication of efforts...."
What is a food insecurity and vulnerability information and mapping system?
A food insecurity and vulnerability information and mapping system is any system or network of systems that assembles, analyses and disseminates information about people who are food-insecure or at risk: who they are, where they are located, and why they are food-insecure or vulnerable. The World Food Summit negotiations produced this name from an original proposal made by several Latin American countries which called for the use of "hunger maps" - a far more evocative but politically sensitive and somewhat ambiguous term and concept. It is noteworthy that the negotiators deliberately decided not to capitalize the initial letters of the words used for this concept, precisely to avoid giving the impression that a heavy new system was being created.
What is the FIVIMS initiative?
FIVIMS is a framework within which a wide range of activities may be carried out, at both the national and international levels, in support of improved information to help achieve World Food Summit goals. At the national level, it is implemented through a network of information systems that gather and analyse data relevant to the measurement and monitoring of food insecurity and vulnerability; such a network of information systems may be referred to as a national FIVIMS. At the international level, it is implemented through a programme of activities, generally referred to as global FIVIMS. The idea behind FIVIMS is that improved information can be used to produce better results from efforts to reduce the number of undernourished and achieve food security for all. The acronym FIVIMS (in English - SICIAV in Spanish and French) refers to the overall framework and the concepts and ideas associated with it, and not to any one particular system or network of systems.
Should national food insecurity and vulnerability information and mapping systems be called FIVIMS?
Strictly speaking, the answer to this question is "no". However, as long as national information systems are playing their role in the struggle against food insecurity and malnutrition, they can be called whatever decision-makers judge appropriate.
Eight principles underlie the present approach to the strengthening and consolidation of national FIVIMS. They can be summarized briefly as follows:
By supporting the development of national information system activities and raising the awareness of policy-makers and other concerned members of civil society about the plight of the food-insecure and the vulnerable, the FIVIMS initiative is expected to generate the following immediate benefits:
In a number of countries, improved information has already led to the introduction of new legislation and the formulation of specific programmes directed towards food-insecure and vulnerable population groups. Such policy decisions are expected to result in an overall reduction of the specific problems associated with undernutrition, as illustrated by the cases of Eritrea and Zambia presented in this chapter.
The information and reports generated through national FIVIMS will be useful to several groups of people across different sectors of society. Main user groups may include the following:
A nutrition survey on micronutrients leads to key policy decisions
In 1994, a National Nutrition Survey was conducted in Eritrea, with a focus on micronutrients (iron, vitamin A and iodine). The survey included anthropometric measurements of children under five years of age, pregnant women and schoolchildren. The following were some of its main findings:
After they had been analysed, the National Nutrition Survey data were presented to policy-makers. In response to the problems identified in the report, the following actions were taken:
In order to monitor progress towards the control of micronutrient deficiency, a second survey will take place in the near future, using the first National Nutrition Survey as a benchmark. The scope of the next survey will be enlarged, in that levels of micronutrients present in the milk of breastfeeding mothers will also be measured.
New policy decision based on lessons learned from sugar fortification
Vitamin A deficiency is a well-recognized public health problem in Zambia. Among the short-term interventions promoted by the National Food and Nutrition Commission are supplementation and fortification of basic foodstuffs. Sugar was selected as the primary vehicle for Vitamin A fortification on the basis of a success story from Guatemala. However, although sugar is assumed to be consumed widely in Zambia, at the time the decision was made to fortify it there was no information on the extent of sugar consumption, so it was difficult to determine whether the programme would be reaching the target population groups.
New information. The Food, Health and Nutrition Information System (FHANIS) responded to the lack of information by including a question on sugar consumption in one of its regular surveys. The results showed that, whereas more than half (53 percent) of urban households consumed sugar, less than one-third (29 percent) of those in rural areas did. The new information on sugar consumption also highlighted the fact that sugar was consumed mainly by the higher-income groups in both the urban and the rural districts, and that the least sugar was consumed in those provinces where vitamin A deficiency was actually the highest.
Policy response. Vitamin A capsules are now given to children in poorer areas (as a more effective way of reaching them than sugar fortification).
An initiative has also been taken to fortify maize meal, which is the main staple food in Zambia. However, the maize meal used by the rural population is processed locally, either by hand or with small hammermills, rather than in the large mills through which fortification may be possible. Hence, it is expected that, as with sugar fortification, the target groups will not be reached. Cassava meal is a more important staple in those provinces where the Vitamin A-deficient population groups live.
Based on the above information, increasing the production and consumption of foodstuffs that are naturally rich in vitamin A is now seen as the most sustainable way of improving dietary intake of vitamin A
Each country is unique with respect to the nature of its food security problems and, thus, the information products needed to address them will also differ. Since the primary aim of a national FIVIMS is to aid
national and local decision-makers, it must provide products that respond, first and foremost, to their priority needs, which are determined by the specific circumstances of each country or district. Hence, the data that a national FIVIMS will assemble, the objectives and methods of its analysis and the products that it develops and disseminates will ultimately depend on who will use them, and for what specific purposes. Although the content of the products is determined by users' needs, some typical products might include those described in the following subsections.
Baseline information. In order to provide an initial guide for national programming and to establish benchmarks for monitoring progress towards achieving Summit goals, an initial assessment of food insecurity and vulnerability in the country is needed.
In many countries, an up-to-date assessment of the food security situation may have been carried out and reported in published documents in preparation for the World Food Summit, or immediately thereafter. There is no need to repeat this work. In other countries, much of the information needed for establishing the baseline will already be available, either in recent assessment reports or in existing databases and survey reports that are still current. However, a FIVIMS baseline information report that summarizes this information will usually be needed. The information can be compiled and presented in the form of summary tables, charts and maps, and should not involve the writing of very lengthy or academic reports. Baseline information reports will generally need to be updated at least once every ten years.
Monitoring reports and situation assessments. Monitoring reports interpret the key indicators that are regularly followed by various national and subnational data collection systems for a range of purposes. Monitoring reports are meant to signal adverse movements in medium-term trends or warn of impending shocks to the food system at the national or subnational level. Reports containing the latest assessment of the current situation should be released at regular intervals that correspond to users' needs within the country, as well as to any reporting requirements that may be established by the CFS, and that are in line with World Food Summit commitments.
The frequency of data collection and reporting is influenced by cost as well as users' needs. Monitoring reports and current situation assessments are generally required at regular intervals, at least yearly (and even more frequently for early warning reports). Data that are difficult and more costly to collect may be updated at less frequent intervals. A schedule for the periodic updating of more costly types of data should be established; and in-depth assessments covering a broader range of data than the monitoring indicators can be prepared at the same time, perhaps every three to five years. In-depth situation assessments are likely to give a more complete picture of the changes occurring in the underlying causes of food insecurity and vulnerability than that provided by annual monitoring reports. Periodic in-depth assessments may also serve to update the baseline information against which progress is being measured and, when appropriate, to establish new reference points for future monitoring.
Policy and programme evaluations and feasibility studies. Evaluation studies provide ex-post assessments of the impacts of policies and programmes on reducing food insecurity and vulnerability; whereas feasibility studies provide ex-ante estimates of the future costs and benefits associated with alternative policies and interventions. Such studies provide information that is essential to ensuring the most efficient use of scarce public resources in food security programming. At the subnational level, for example, the results of such studies can guide the formulation of participatory community action programmes. At the national level, information can help in the design or reorientation of national food assistance programmes (in the short term) and broader national food security policies and programmes (in the longer term). At both the local and the national levels, information from such studies is critical when formulating requests for external assistance. At the global level, information from policy studies can guide the programming of investments, technical assistance and international food aid. Such studies will generally be produced as the need arises.
Advances in computer technology have made possible the use of mapping techniques, in particular GIS, to analyse and present complex food insecurity and vulnerability information in ways that greatly facilitate understanding and decision-making. Maps generated from georeferenced data can provide easily understood visual information about the location of food-insecure and vulnerable population groups and geographic areas. Once these locations have been mapped, a wide variety of other data relevant to understanding and monitoring the food and nutritional status of vulnerable people can be overlaid on the base maps. These techniques can communicate a large amount of information in a simple format, and can also be used as an analytical tool. A range of user-friendly GIS tools is now available for use on affordable personal computers. Investment in appropriate hardware and software, and training of national technicians in their use, will be essential components of modern and effective national FIVIMS.
Information by itself is of no value unless it reaches those who need it, can be easily understood and is actually used. National information systems must develop dissemination plans and approaches that ensure that these conditions are met. A starting point is a user needs assessment to ensure that decision-makers' real information needs are correctly identified. The participation of decision-makers in the preliminary stages of planning for various types of surveys will also be useful in providing input and conferring a sense of ownership in the final results. Reports should then be prepared that keep in mind the specific needs, interests and perspectives of the appropriate target users. For most users, long reports containing a large amount of data and information and covering a wide range of topics are less effective than shorter theme-specific reports that address the particular interests of one type of user.
The way in which information is presented is also critically important. Data analyses should be fully transparent and easily understood. Results should be attractively presented in ways that facilitate the drawing of conclusions. To this end, maximum use should be made of well prepared and clearly designed graphs and maps that communicate patterns and complex relationships in ways that can be grasped quickly by policy-makers. Depending on the technological capacity within the country, media other than printed documents (such as radio, posters, town meetings and computer networks) may be used to communicate information and reports generated by national FIVIMS. Workshops to present and discuss results with subsets of users can be an extremely effective means of helping decision-makers to interpret and internalize results and their implications for policy. l
A number of steps may help to strengthen national information systems within the FIVIMS framework in such a way that permanent national institutions are reinforced and political commitment to ensure sustainability is mobilized. A series of actions that can be implemented as appropriate, depending on the conditions in particular countries, are set out in the following subsections. Not all the steps need be applied in a strict sequence, nor need they all be applied in every country.
In countries where policy-makers are not yet fully aware of the need for strong food insecurity and vulnerability information systems, an effort should be made to sensitize them to the nature and potential benefits of such systems. This step is essential in establishing the political commitment necessary for success. A variety of means can be used. High officials in ministries concerned with food security, as well as those responsible for broader development planning and resource allocation, can be briefed individually to ensure that they understand how information products can be of direct value to their work. Sensitization workshops involving key representatives of concerned ministries can also be useful to foster the formulation of an official national policy, and to reach agreement on the need and mechanisms for close cross-sectoral and interministerial cooperation in the sharing of key data and information.
There is a need to designate a national focal point who can play a catalytic and/or coordinating role in initiating the implementation of FIVIMS activities. Subsequently, the focal point should arrange the management of any shared FIVIMS database networks that may be established, the production of consolidated FIVIMS reports and the maintenance of relationships with relevant international organizations and databases.
Selection of the focal point is a strictly national decision and should be based on considerations of effectiveness. Countries may designate a person, an existing information unit or a government department. In making the selection, countries should consider that the focal point will need to have the authority to communicate officially with, and obtain the cooperation of, a number of different information systems operated by different line ministries, independent government departments, NGOs and private sector organizations. Thus, rather than selecting a focal point from among line ministries, countries may wish to place the focal point functions in a unit or department that traditionally works on cross-cutting, interministerial issues, such as the Office of the President or Prime Minister, the Planning Ministry, the Ministry of Finance or the Central Statistics Office.
The first task of the focal point may be to establish a collaborative network involving all the operating systems of those units that produce or use data and information of relevance to FIVIMS. The purpose of the network will be to facilitate the exchange of information, planning and cooperation on an ongoing basis. Although it would not be necessary to establish a new institutional structure requiring additional resources, at a minimum the network needs to establish rules of procedure for decision-making and reporting and participants should have the authority to speak, on behalf of their respective institutions, on food security information issues.
An early responsibility of the network may be to conduct an assessment of users' information needs. The purpose of the assessment will be to identify and prioritize the major types of information required by different users and their preferred periodicity and format. The assessment can be carried out through group meetings, individual interviews or questionnaires. It is important to ensure that all potential user groups at the national and subnational levels are given adequate opportunity to articulate their needs. To obtain an accurate and complete list of the needs of potential users who have not previously had access to usable information, it may be necessary to undertake several rounds of meetings or interviews in order to identify the types of information that would be most useful. As the national FIVIMS is developed further, the focal point should obtain periodic feedback from users, in order to monitor the progress being made and identify areas where further improvements can be introduced.
Once the information needs of key food security decision-makers have been identified and prioritized, the network could conduct an inventory of the available data and information, and evaluate the extent to which current information systems meet those needs. An evaluation might consider the range of data and information types, their coverage, periodicity, quality, data management procedures, analytical methods and dissemination approaches. Results of the evaluation would identify significant gaps or weakness in meeting priority information needs and point out areas where there may be duplication of effort and where collection of low-priority information might be terminated. The evaluation should include aspects related to data collection, management, analysis and dissemination.
Results of the user needs assessment and the inventory and evaluation of the current information systems will serve as building blocks in the development of a strategy to improve the national information systems within the FIVIMS network. The strategy should define a priority set of information required by national decision-makers and a set of verifiable objectives. A national work plan would then set out a scheduled programme of initiatives and activities to meet those objectives. Actions might include institutional changes to achieve greater information integration within and across sectors and ministries, use of new technology and methodologies, human capacity building, and investments in new equipment and software. Initiatives in the areas of data collection, management, analysis and dissemination should all be considered on the basis of results of the evaluation. The plan should be designed in modules or increments such that higher-priority actions could be taken in a logical sequence as resources permit. Domestic resource requirements implementing the plan, and priority areas in need of external assistance, should be identified.
For FIVIMS activities to survive, they must receive the commitment of key political decision-makers who will provide adequate and continued support. To obtain such commitment, they must in the first instance produce useful and usable information products that help to convince political decision-makers to support the information system. However, good work alone may not be sufficient, unless it comes to the attention of key decision-makers. The agenda of the national FIVIMS network must include, not only the maximization of information quality and usefulness (supply side considerations), but also specific strategies for the building and reinforcing of demand for good information products. The well-focused dissemination of well-presented products to key decision-makers and other potentially influential information user groups can contribute significantly to this end. Complementing the dissemination of published products with timely, focused and publicized workshops that involve important decision-makers and other user groups can significantly reinforce such support.
Most national governments already provide much FIVIMS-related data and information to international institutions, as part of well-established cooperative agreements. As a global FIVIMS begins to be established, there may be requests for small quantities of additional data that will assist in the better monitoring of progress towards the attainment of the objectives of the World Food Summit and other international agreements. In addition, as national information systems are strengthened, national governments will have better information that can be transmitted as part of normal reporting. The exact nature and configuration of the global FIVIMS is still being planned and debated, but it is likely that it would assemble and analyse a subset of the indicators being generated by the national FIVIMS networks, which would be common across countries. This would permit intercountry analyses and comparisons in accordance with guidance from the CFS. It is unlikely that this will require governments to establish a new reporting channel for special FIVIMS information. Rather, most (if not all) FIVIMS information will probably flow through existing links to the current holders of international databases.