Developing strategies to end hunger

FAO Poised to Track Hunger in Real Time

Hunger Report MondayVoices of the Hungry

Precise, complete, and up-to-date data. Everyone working on hunger policy knows how important it is. In fact, access to it would be a dream come true. Instead of wishing after the fact that we could have done more to prevent or at least mitigate hunger crises large and small, chronic malnutrition in the 1,000-day window before a child’s second birthday, and the micronutrient deficiencies that cause conditions such as rickets and intellectual disabilities, we would have the information available in time to “do something.”

We’re getting closer to that dream, thanks to ever-expanding global networks and the rapid progress of real-time communication technologies. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), arguably the most comprehensive and reliable source of international hunger and food security data, has just unveiled a promising new hunger tracking tool — perhaps its first true hunger tracking tool — which uses the new technology to speed up the collection of accurate data. FAO calls it the Voices of the Hungry Project. The name fits, since the goal is to lend a far more sensitive and responsive ear to people living with hunger.

Even at FAO, existing hunger data collection and analysis methods take as long as two or three years to bring accurate data from its source to world attention. By then it is often too late to respond effectively. Most FAO food consumption surveys are administered only every five years, and they don’t always include individual-level responses.

Twitter was all abuzz over  FAO's new tool. Bread for the World Institute was talking about it too. 

The Voices of the Hungry Project will select representative samples of 1,000 to 5,000 people per country, depending on the national population. Individuals will be asked to answer eight questions to gauge the depth and frequency of any food insecurity they experienced in the previous year. More specifically, the questions measure whether respondents are experiencing mild, moderate, or severe food insecurity on a “Food Insecurity Experience Scale.” 

Respondents are asked to indicate whether, in the past 12 months, there was a time when, because of lack of money or other resources:

1.    You were worried you would run out of food.
2. You were unable to eat healthy and nutritious food.
3. You ate only a few kinds of foods.
4. You had to skip a meal.
5. You ate less than you thought you should.
6. Your household ran out of food.
7. You were hungry but did not eat.
8. You went without eating for a whole day.

The survey results will be available in days rather than years, allowing FAO to take an almost real-time snapshot of a nation's food security situation.

Chapter 1 of Bread for the World Institute’s 2013 Hunger Report delineates the high costs of delayed data collection. It tells the story of FAO’s struggle to accurately track rising hunger and food insecurity during and after the food price crisis of 2008-2009. The data was not made available until a year or more after the crisis began. Moreover, some of it was later discovered to be significantly inaccurate.

The effectiveness of nutrition programs, the credibility of statements about progress or lack of progress on hunger, and the integrity of broader development initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) depend on reliable data. Measurable, accurate results provide the crucial backing to show whether a proposed solution is likely to work. FAO’s Voices of the Hungry Project will help get the facts about who is hungry out in a faster, more accurate way.

Read more about the food price crisis of 2008-2009, changing data collection methods, and the MDGs in chapter one of the 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach: Global Development Goals.  Derek Schwabe


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