Measuring food insecurity through people's experiences

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (Committee on World Food Security, 2009).

Adequate food was declared a basic human right over half a century ago. However, tens of millions of people in the world do not have access to enough food for an active and healthy life. Information regarding the distribution and severity of hunger and food insecurity can contribute to building political will, designing effective policies, and targeting allocation of resources to effectively realize this basic human right.

Evidence-based decision making can be strengthened through the availability of timely and frequently collected data at the country level. In many countries, the capacity and national budgets for data collection and analysis are limited, making it difficult to understand the food insecurity situation in the country and to develop strategies to address it.

The Food Insecurity Experience Scale: an experience-based food insecurity measure

FAO’s Voices of the Hungry (VoH) project is developing a new global standard for estimating the prevalence of food insecurity through use of a tool called the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES).

The FIES is an experience-based metric of food insecurity severity that relies on people’s direct responses to questions regarding their access to adequate food. Accumulated evidence over the past two decades with similar measures has convinced FAO of the potential for using this method of measurement to provide valid and reliable population estimates of food insecurity that are comparable across different countries and cultures.

It is widely acknowledged that various measurement tools are needed to account for the complex nature of food security and to monitor its multiple dimensions. The four pillars of food security are said to be food availability, food access, food utilization and stability. It is the second dimension of food security – food access – that the FIES is designed to measure using self-reported data collected at the household and individual level. The FIES represents an important complement to existing measures of other aspects of food security, as it frames the experience of hunger from the perspective of those whose human right to adequate food is being violated.

Inclusion of the FIES in the Gallup World Poll

Beginning in 2014, FAO has inserted the FIES into the Gallup® World Poll (GWP), a branch of Gallup, Inc. conducting nationally representative surveys annually in more than 150 countries.  Inclusion of the FIES in the annual GWP enables FAO to collect cross-culturally comparable information from individual respondents at a relatively low cost and provides country-level estimates of food insecurity severity. This information will be invaluable as it provides the first nationally representative data on the food access dimension of food security at the individual level on an annual basis and for a large number of countries. Indicators like the FIES to track global changes and measure progress are greatly needed for monitoring in the context of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, the Sustainable Development Goals and other international commitments, and will provide valuable information for international and national-level policymaking.

Promoting use of the FIES in national surveys

The Voices of the Hungry Project encourages countries to include the FIES in national-level surveys to inform policies aimed at promoting food security at the national and sub-national levels. The project provides technical assistance to countries interested in using the FIES and conducts regional workshops.

Pilot Studies

State-of-the-art and results from four pilot studies 2013 in Sub Saharan Africa
Presentation by Carlo Cafiero