Measuring food security using household expenditure surveys

Lisa C. Smith, Ali Subandoro
food security in practice technical guide series

Food is one of the most basic needs for human survival. Access to it is a basic human right. Moreover, the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goal to cut hunger requires a sound understanding of the related food security issues. For these reasons, accurate measurement of the food security status of populations—or their ability to gain access to sufficient high-quality food to enable them to live an active, healthy life—is imperative to all international development efforts. It is necessary for effectively targeting food-insecure populations, researching and planning appropriate interventions, and monitoring progress. As past efforts have shown, accurately estimating the amount of food people eat is costly in terms of time and money, and such measurements have thus been carried out mostly in small populations. Where measurement has been extended to large populations, such as entire countries, it has been necessary to rely on less accurate, indirect techniques based on the availability of food at the national level. This technical guide presents a new avenue for measuring food security, for both small and large populations, based on the data collected as part of household expenditure surveys on the quantities of food acquired by households. It shows how these data can be used to measure a variety of food security indicators, including the prevalence of food energy deficiency and indicators of dietary quality and economic vulnerability to food insecurity. In keeping with the approach of IFPRI's Food Security in Practice series for practitioners, the manual guides readers step by step through the process of assessing the food security status of a population. It begins by offering guidance on choosing an appropriate strategy for calculating quantities of foods acquired by households, given time constraints, financial constraints, and the nature of the population's diet. The guide then leads the practitioner through the steps of collecting the data, processing and cleaning the data, and calculating the indicators. It concludes by illustrating how to conduct some basic food security analyses. I hope that this guide will assist practitioners in increasing the accuracy of the measurement of food insecurity for a greater number of populations, including those at the country level. Greater accuracy at the country level will provide the necessary foundations for overcoming food insecurity globally