World Food Week

Real-time food insecurity info would prompt action

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food and agriculture organization

A global monitoring scheme to measure food insecurity at individual and household levels would have more weight with policy makers and encourage preventative action, say anthropologists.

This week, in the run-up to World Food Day on 16th October, there has been is a major focus on the effect of the 2008 food crisis on food security around the world.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said this week that an estimated 1.02 billion people in the world are going hungry in 2009, and that this figure has spiked sharply as a result of the global economic crisis. Almost all of these live in developing countries, but some 15 million are thought to be in developed countries.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said: “We have the economic and technical means to make hunger disappear, what is missing is a stronger political will to eradicate hunger forever.”​ He sees investing in agriculture in developing countries as key as a healthy agricultural sector and ensuring overall economic growth and peace.

Craig Hadley and Kenneth Maes of the department of anthropology at Emory University in the US believe one of the problems underlying lack of action is in the way estimates are made at present.

They are based on the FAO’s food balance sheets, which estimate per-capita availability of calories, not consumption. Moreover, they look at a country-level, not a household level.

In an article in this week’s issue of The Lancet, Hadley and Maes write that “strikingly few data exist about what actually happens at the community and household levels, and how experiences vary across age, class and space (eg urban versus rural)”.

This means the assumption is that people are “for the most part passive”​ when food prices increases, whereas in fact anthropological studies have shown that people respond in a number of ways.

Hadley and Maes suggest that a database of global food insecurity would require a tool that measures experiences at community and household level, such as a questionnaire including questions like whether the respondent has been worried about running out of food in the last six months, and whether lack of money has led people to consume just a few foods.

They envisage a global monitoring system that would consist of a network of sites, each with a sample of households responding to a short, experienced-based tool twice a year.

The real-time data this would produce would give better data on the impact of food and financial crises, “and thus be more convincing to policy-makers than simulation-based generalisations”.

“Having such a global surveillance system would also hopefully encourage a precentative – as opposed to reactionary – approach to food insecurity,”​ they wrote.


The Lancet

Vol 374, October 10 2009

“A new global monitoring system for food insecurity?”

Hadley, C; Maes, K.

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