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The sustainability of the FSIEWS thus created can only be guaranteed if:


One of the principal uses of the available information in the database is to provide planners at all levels with an inter-sectoral historic analysis of national food security, highlighting the constraints and strong points. Clearly the ministries concerned (mainly agriculture, trade, health and social affairs, planning and economics) have much more detailed historic analyses of their sectors than the FSIEWS database, but its specific focus on food security, and its inter-sectoral structure, make it particularly attractive to planners. Moreover, its detailed information on vulnerable groups and individuals helps planners to target their actions to the most deprived. The frequency and care with which the database is updated is one of the keys to a successful FSIEWS. The regular use that planners at all levels (local, provincial, national, etc.) make of the database is a reflection of how successful it is.

A regularly updated database should also be useful in preparing analytical publications on the impact of different sectoral policies concerning food security. It is probably not the role of the FSIEWS (which should remain exclusively an information system) to carry out such analyses: these should be left to researchers, but it should be adapted to meet such needs and even suggest them.

Some key factors are:

To respond to the growing need for information, taking into account new constraints, the following must be ensured:

All data collection should be justified by one or more specific targeted uses. It is the use that is made of the information that guarantees funding.
All duplication in the collection or processing of data should be scrupulously avoided; regular coordination among information providers, and between providers and users, is indispensable (if difficult at times).
The results of data processing should be quickly made available to as many people as possible in a form that everyone can understand. Extension services, civil society and many others may be interested in receiving information in a summary or collated form provided it is adapted to the user.
The only way an early warning can be identified is by estimating the change in a situation. The forecasting component should therefore be developed for each of the classic monitoring systems (harvest forecast, evolution of markets and households vulnerable to food crises), but in particular for the system that analyses the food security situation (forecasting global food insecurity trends).


Provision may have to be made for regular "public" evaluations of the FSIEWS. National workshops on food security monitoring may also be planned every two years with the participation of all the actors in the public, private and voluntary sectors, similar to the national workshop to validate the FSIEWS. The workshops should be organized by the NFSC secretariat with the approval and support of the NFSC.

Such a workshop is quite difficult to organize, as it can easily become a pretext for political discussion or manoeuvrings among the various participants. For this reason it has to be carefully organized, controlled and the focus constantly brought back to the technical problems of running the FSIEWS as a monitoring instrument.

Periodic assessment can also take the form of another survey of the recipients of FSIEWS information. The questions should be aimed at revealing the level of satisfaction among recipients, perceptions of problems encountered, suggestions for improvements (in particular for the control panel indicators). However, such a survey will not give a global view of the FSIEWS situation. It should also be accompanied by an assessment of the internal functioning (analysis of the flow of information, appropriate use of technical and human resources, etc.), which may be carried out by one or more independent consultants.

Another way of periodically evaluating the system is to use the regular bulletin as a discussion forum, setting up a dialogue between the paper and its readership. As the NFSC secretariat is responsible for the bulletin, it could be tempted to use this forum for its own ends - propaganda or self-congratulation, giving the questions and articles a definite slant, selecting the replies or comments received. This needs to be guarded against.

The NFSC may also ask a firm or independent consultants nominated by the Committee to carry out regular technical assessments. The choice of firm or independent consultants, as indeed their instructions (and method of payment) are also susceptible to manipulation by the members of the NFSC. In order to avoid any such criticism, the NFSC can choose to have this periodic evaluation carried out by an independent international organization (FAO).


The CILSS, the SADC and the IGAD, which have all set up interstate food security monitoring systems, provide some interesting examples in this context. "Subregional FSIEWS" can be beneficial in zones subject to regular drought that are fairly homogeneous in respect of the food production and diets of their populations. They may be called regional food security information systems (RFSIS), or be otherwise named.

Such a system has three main areas of responsibility:

3.1 Synthesis of National FSIEWS Information

It is a good idea for the regional organization to receive regularly and in good time copies of food security databases from each country so that it can prepare a regional overview of changing data on availability, stability and access, and distribute such summary information to all the member countries and other interested parties (donors for example). Obviously such a database will only be interesting if the information reaches the regional organization quickly and in a standardized format so that the data in the various databases can be combined. For example, a good synthesis of national production data should enable the regional organization to inform the countries in the region of available surpluses and specific needs.

A regional organization can also assist some of the countries in the region to establish their databases, if necessary.

3.2 Databases for Interstate Information

Some of the information needed to monitor food security is of a purely regional nature and therefore requires a regional organization to take charge of collection, analysis and dissemination.

This kind of information is linked to:

An RFSIS could also channel food aid from triangular transactions, where the donor buys staple foods in one country to donate to another.

3.3 A Common Food-Security Policy Forum for Decision-Makers in the Region

The CILSS67 is a good example of food security cooperation among the drought afflicted countries of the Sahel. This concerted effort is both technical and policy-based; it is a forum not only for governments in the area but also other development partners (NGOs, private associations, etc. in the region and foreign donors).

The principal constraint to the smooth running of this cooperative effort is the political will of governments in the area to collaborate.

In the SADC68 region, the member states finance a regional early warning and food security unit that produces regional reports and gives technical support to the member states. The unit is also a discussion forum, and in this role it organizes annual seminars for examining new initiatives and analysing monitoring and forecasting techniques.

The Prevention of food crises

It is difficult to predict how the food security situation will change at regional level, except perhaps as regards major natural disasters such as cyclones, tsunamis, etc.

It is also difficult to establish a control panel for regional forecasting. At best, a synthesis of the information contained in the national control panels can be carried out. A regional organization is, however, responsible for organizing interstate cooperation in the case of specific alerts affecting several countries and also for preparing appeals for international assistance. On the other hand, good knowledge of the migrations of birds and locusts should enable a regional organization to coordinate efforts to combat crop pests and organize action to prevent animal or human epidemics.

Proposal for the regional coordination of food security information and early warning systems


The current development situation is characterized by a reduction in public aid, the massive spread of information exchange systems (fax, Internet, etc.), and the globalization of computers, combined with an array of ever more powerful, simple and inexpensive programmes.

Multimedia seems to affect every aspect of the mass media today (advertising, television, radio, reviews, newspapers, books, films, cassettes, CD-ROMs, Internet, etc.). The different media use information that is not always properly controlled and analysed before being transmitted to a large number of "customers" or "recipients", who are not always able to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information.

Nor should the exponential development of mobile telephones, now linked by satellite, be overlooked. A large number of traders and transporters already use mobile telephones for "their business"; the cost of calls is dropping all the time, fierce competition leading to spectacular reductions. The exchange of information between the regional committees and the FSIEWS, and between the various FSIEWS, may soon be possible via fax (or e-mail) and a mobile phone.

In spite of improved techniques for circulating and processing information, the costs of collecting and analysing information is still very high (staff, travel, training) and national statistics systems often do not have the resources.


At the World Food Summit, in November 1996, FAO undertook to act as a catalyst in developing food insecurity and vulnerability information and mapping systems (FIVIMS). Their proposed role was to provide data at a disaggregated level on regions and populations at risk or undernourished. On a global scale, the aim of the FIVIMS is to monitor under-nourishment so that individual states are better able to formulate and apply policies aimed at reducing by half the number of people undernourished by 2015 and promote food security for all69.

A large number of activities can be carried out in the framework of the FIVIMS initiative at national and international levels to improve information and achieve the aims of the World Food Summit. To this end FAO has taken steps to:

Commitments made at the Summit regarding the establishment of a food insecurity and vulnerability information mapping system (FIVIMS)

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;"

Commitment Seven, para. 59 b): states that, "To this end, governments, in cooperation among themselves and with international institutions, using information on food insecurity and vulnerability, including mapping, will, as appropriate: encourage relevant agencies within the UN system to initiate, inter alia within the framework of the ACC, consultations on the further elaboration and definition of a food security and vulnerability information and mapping system to be developed in a coordinated manner; member countries and their institutions and other organizations, as appropriate, should be included in the development, operation and use of the system ..."

The theoretical framework of vulnerability analysis within the FIVIMS initiative is defined in the table below:

In this framework we find once again the four aspects of food security: availability of staple foods, stability of supplies (to which is added the stability of access), access for all to supplies of staple foods, and biological utilization (called physiological utilization here).

In countries where there is already a FSIEWS (or equivalent system), a natural choice for the national focal point of the FSIEWS would be one of the managers of the NFSC secretariat, often even the FSIEWS coordinator.

5.1 Activities and aims of the FSIEWS at Global Level

The following measures have already been taken or are under way:

For further information on the stage of development of the global FIVIMS, see the web site for this inter-agency programme:

5.2 The FIVIMS Initiative at National Level

At national level, the FIVIMS consists of a network of information systems that collect and analyse data relating to the measurement and monitoring of food insecurity and vulnerability. The FSIEWS can be seen as a national FIVIMS but it is neither necessary nor useful to change its title70.

A national FIVIMS is a system or network of systems that gathers, analyses and disseminates information on people who are victims of, or are exposed to, the risks of food insecurity. It aims to find out who they are, where they are and the underlying causes of the food insecure or vulnerable situation. The aim of national FIVIMS is to enable managers and representatives of civil society to have more reliable and up-to-date data on the problems of food security in their countries at all levels, and to facilitate the evaluation of policies and programmes aimed at improving the situation71. The national systems are also called on to provide information to enable the international community to monitor and guide their progress towards the global objectives established during the World Food Summit.

A FSIEWS can therefore be an essential instrument for a national FIVIMS. The FIVIMS guidelines place particular emphasis on the fact that while national information systems (FSIEWS or other approaches) are playing their part in the eradication of food insecurity and malnutrition there is no need to rename them. Nevertheless, they recommend that these national organizations be designated as FIVIMS focal points in the context of the commitments of the World Food Summit.


The Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) of FAO was created in 1975, following the World Food Conference. The aim of the GIEWS is to provide international decision-makers and analysts with the most up-to-date information possible on all aspects of the supply and demand for food and alert them to the risk of imminent food crises so that appropriate action can be taken. It publishes regular bulletins on production, consumption and food markets worldwide; it also publishes detailed reports on regional and national situations.

In carrying out this work, the GIEWS relies in particular on information provided by national data-collection systems. It has therefore established a close working relationship with all the FSIEWS and other local systems and regularly receives their publications by fax or e-mail. It can, moreover, liaise with these bodies to organize missions to assess harvests and the food situation, to collect more up-to-date or more detailed information, especially at harvest time or when there is a food crisis. These missions are often also jointly led by FAO and WFP. In the Sahel, joint FAO/CILSS72/government missions are organized every year in October in all CILSS member countries. The figures for the harvest forecasts can therefore be estimated jointly and then presented at a series of regional or international meetings with donors.

Conversely, the GIEWS supplies countries with national information regarding the situation in neighbouring countries, at regional and international levels. All these publications can be accessed on the Internet73. There is also a mailing list for subscribers to receive information by e-mail74. In addition, the GIEWS has developed country databases of statistics, maps, cultural events and satellite images75.

A large amount of additional information may now be accessed on-line using a new interface called GeoWeb, which has a search facility.

To facilitate consultation of the various indicators and the work of cross analysis carried out by its geographic experts, the GIEWS has developed a work station (GeoFile) with the support of the European Union, that will be made available to countries to improve their national systems. This computer tool, which has already been installed in Africa and in the SADC, will soon be available at the Centre Agrhymet of CILSS. There are also plans to organize training courses on the use and maintenance of the workstation that is to be decentralized in other parts of the country.

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