Voices of the Hungry

Bringing experience-based food insecurity measurement to the global level

The FIES is an experience-based metric of food insecurity severity. It relies on people’s direct responses to questions about their experiences facing constrained access to food. Inspired by two decades of accumulated experience with similar tools in several countries, Voices of the Hungry developed the analytical protocols necessary to take experience-based food security measurement global, making it possible to compare prevalence rates across countries and even sub-national populations.

In 2014, FAO began collecting FIES data by leveraging on the Gallup® World Poll (GWP), a branch of Gallup, Inc. that surveys nationally representative samples of the adult population annually in nearly 150 countries, covering 90% of the world’s population. This has enabled FAO to collect information from individual respondents at a relatively low cost and to compute country-level estimates of the prevalence of food insecurity at different levels of severity that are valid, reliable and comparable across countries. The first phase of the project was made possible by direct financial support from the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfID) and by financial support from the Kingdom of Belgium through the FAO Multipartner Programme Support Mechanism (FMM).

Why use the FIES to measure food insecurity?

  • Produces timely, reliable and meaningful information on the adequacy of access to food at the individual or household level.
  • Easily applied at low cost within any individual or household survey.
  • Is a direct measure of food insecurity experienced by people and households.
  • Produces comparable estimates of food insecurity prevalence rates across countries and cultures.
  • Enables the analysis of gender differences in food insecurity when applied at the individual level.
  • When included in large population surveys, it provides actionable information that policy makers can use to identify vulnerable population groups and guide policy interventions.
  • Deepens our understanding of the determinants and consequences of individual and household food insecurity when used together with other indicators in population surveys.
  • Contributes to highlighting food security links across sectors, such as nutrition and agriculture, when used to monitor and evaluate policies and programs.
  • The FIES differs from traditional approaches that assess food insecurity indirectly, such as FAO's Prevalence of Undernourishment, measures of food security determinants (such as food availability or income) and potential outcomes (such as nutritional status).
  • No single tool can account for the many dimensions of food and nutrition security. The FIES complements the existing set of food and nutrition security indicators. Used in combination with other measures, the FIES has the potential to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the causes and consequences of food insecurity and to inform more effective policies and interventions. Because the FIES is easy for professionals and institutions from any sector to use, its inclusion in diverse types of surveys can help strengthen links between different sectorial perspectives, for example, between agriculture, social protection, health and nutrition.

Promoting use of the FIES at the country level

The full potential of the FIES to generate statistics that can inform policy is realized when the tool is applied in large national population surveys that allow more detailed analyses of the food insecurity situation by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location, or other policy-relevant characteristics. This is already the case for a number of countries.

With financial support from the European Union and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan, the Voices of the Hungry Project is building country-level capacity to use the FIES in national surveys, providing technical assistance to national institutions and conducting regional and country-level workshops.

The FIES is building momentum!

While several countries have used experience-based food security scales to monitor their national food security over recent decades, the development of a global version of the tool marked the beginning of a new era. The Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) is being adopted by an increasing number of countries and is gaining momentum worldwide, as they recognize its numerous advantages: simplicity, reliability, and the ability to produce results that speak to people and can effect change.

This map shows countries in different stages of adopting the FIES, with the goal of being able to report on SDG indicator 2.1.2 as well as use their results to inform national food security policy.