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Household Food Economy Analysis

Over the past five years SCF have been working on a research programme to develop a famine early warning tool called 'Risk Mapping'. Part of this work has involved the development of a field based method to look at how people in rural areas survive in good and bad years. This method has recently been used as a basis for investigating how refugee families survive once conditions have stabilised.

Sources of food in Akot, South Sudan

The method, which is called 'Household Food Economy Analysis' assesses the needs of households or communities facing acute food insecurity. The approach is based on an understanding of the variety of options people employ to secure access to food. The results are then presented in simple graphic format using pie charts to represent 100% of normal food requirements. The segments of the pie represent mechanisms of food access. Results based on the collation of information on the way people access food
in times of crisis are used to suggest appropriate interventions. In some cases this may mean supplying food aid; in other cases it will point towards support rather than replacement of local initiatives. Where food aid has a role to play, the approach allows a better estimation of needs than provided by an assessment based on food production.

This method was used in the war affected Akot area of southern Sudan and produced the following kind of information: if families could not afford to slaughter any additional animals then they would face a deficit of 5%of their annual food needs; if they could not increase fishing catches they would require an additional 10% etc (Figure 1). By doing the same kind of analysis for poor and rich households as well as typical ones, a quantitative estimate of total food needs can be built up.

The method can also help to state explicitly the specific problem that the provision of food aid is attempting to address: e.g. for Akot it could be to preserve assets and safeguard future livelihoods by preventing the slaughter of animals. At evaluation stage the effect of the food aid programme would be a lot easier to assess.

The approach draws as far as possible on existing documentation but also taps into knowledge of local people. This is done in a highly structured and systematic way using key informant enquiries. Key informants can be found amongst government workers, NGO staff, teachers, representatives of village organisations, traditional leaders and traders. They are people who by virtue of their position or experience
know the answer to most of the questions. SCF believe that with appropriate selection and proper cross- checking, within and between interviews, the judgement of key informants on quantitative questions such as the typical livestock holding of an area, deserves the same confidence given intuitively to their judgement on qualitative questions. Rigour comes from the focus on food and the fact that if people are surviving and not becoming malnourished then they must be consuming close to 100% of their needs. The task is to piece together the relative importance of the various food sources for different families. The estimate of food needs can then be based on an understanding of how much of each food source a family may have access to and a knowledge of that foods potential calorific contribution.

WFP and UNHCR see this as a useful approach and have used SCF assessment teams to perform household food economy assessments before WFP/UNI{CR joint donor needs assessments. These pre-assessments appear to provide a better contextual understanding for UN/donor assessment missions. The findings of one recent assessment in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya are presented in this newsletter.

For further information on this approach contact Lola Nathanail, Plicy Unit, SCF(UK), 17 Grove Lane, London SES 8RD, UK.

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Reference this page

Household Food Economy Analysis. Field Exchange 1, May 1997. p10. www.ennonline.net/fex/1/analysis