reviewed & published
Handbook for Defining and Setting up a Food Security Information and Early Warning System (FSIEWS)
FAO agricultural policy and economic development series
Series number
Vercueil, J., Agricultural Development Economics Division, FAO

"Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life."

This definition of food security was drawn up at the World Food Summit (Rome, November 1996). It appears at the beginning of the Plan of Action outlining the steps to be taken, developed and approved by the representatives of 186 countries, to progress as quickly as possible towards the elimination of hunger in the world.

The Summit also recognized the urgent need to improve the information available to governments, their international partners and all the actors in civil society within each country, to guide their action against food insecurity, and to make it as effective as possible. To this end, the international programme, FIVIMS (Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems), was undertaken in 1997 to improve, both at a global level and within each country, the mobilization and utilization of information needed to make decisions regarding food security for all.

FAO has long been engaged in promoting information systems for food security. Since the 1970s it has accumulated valuable experience as a result of its own work and that of other multi- or bi-lateral technical assistance governmental and non-governmental organizations in the field of food security. Above all, it has benefited from vital lessons learned from its work in the field, consisting of supporting and participating in setting up, improving and reinforcing national information systems, the results and functioning of which comprise the backbone of food security monitoring.

In many countries, the creation, improvement and integration of information systems contributing to the monitoring of food security have been carried out within the framework of a method that has been developed, enhanced and rationalized over the years.

The aim of this handbook is to describe the FSIEWS (Food Security and Early Warning Information System) method for the benefit of the community of governmental and non-governmental actors engaged in the fight against hunger. This contribution to the FIVIMS programme is addressed to national technical managers, central and decentralized, as well as to their technical assistance co-workers. It aims to provide them with a procedure to follow and an array of useful instruments for the different stages.

As with any handbook, this one takes stock of the lessons of an experience that is being added to all the time; it will require further additions and corrections, thanks to the indispensable contributions of those who, in widely varying conditions, countries and regions, are actually carrying out the work of establishing and using instruments for bringing about food security.

Rooted as it is in the practicalities of the field, this book has an important contribution to make to the ability of governments to know who, where and why people are affected or threatened by food insecurity--a prerequisite of any action to remedy such a situation.

Poverty and food security