An information system in exile - Is it working?
An Evaluation of the Food Security Assessment Unit, Nairobi
The Food Security Assessment
Unit (FSAU) is an information unit based in Nairobi, funded mainly by the
EC and managed by the WFP Somalia Unit. It was established in 1994 and
is currently coming to the end of its second phase of funding (Jan 1999).
The role of the FSAU is to provide food security related information on
population groups within Somalia for the benefit of donors and other agencies
working there. It has three main partner projects which provide data
and support information collection and analysis in the unit. ACF support
the collection of clinic based nutritional data, SCF have introduced the
Household Food Economy (HFE) methodology into the FSAU and have conducted
baseline studies on numerous food economy groups in Somalia and FEWS provide
and analyse rainfall, Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and
price data. The FSAU team are involved in four crop assessments (the area
of crop planted and crop production) for the two main crop seasons each
The FSAU is effectively an information system in exile. The expatriate specialists (agronomist, nutritionist, food economy specialist and Geographic Information System officer) who man the Nairobi office are complemented by a highly qualified group of Somali field monitors. Since the withdrawal of UNISOM troops in 1994 the expatriate presence in Somalia has gradually dwindled in response to a succession of security incidents. Programme implementation and information collection is therefore dependent upon Somalis.
The EC requested an evaluation
of the FSAU before approving funding for a phase 3. This evaluation has
just been completed and its main findings were as follows.
The introduction of the SCF HFE assessment methodology into the overall information system has allowed integration of all data sets and provided a coherent framework for providing early warning and identifying vulnerable groups. Previously, the data were difficult to interpret and failed to account for the diverse means of subsistence practised by most Somalis. Credible food needs assessments are now provided every three months. However, there are still many weaknesses in the system. For example,
- much of the data quality needs to be improved. For example, the agricultural production data are based on pre-war estimates of areas planted while the clinic based nutritional data are virtually impossible to interpret with any confidence unless additional contextual data are collected;
- although the vast majority of Somalis are either pastoralist or agro-pastoralist there are no baseline data on livestock populations or analytical framework for assessing the impact of events like drought, or disease on livestock status and production systems;
- although there are many agencies implementing rehabilitation and development programmes, in Somalia, the FSAU provides very little data which can be used by these agencies for programming purposes;
- information is not systematically
disseminated to potential user groups in Somalia, e.g. local NGOs, District
councils, farmers and traders.
In response to these types of short-comings the reviewers have suggested a number of measures which could be taken, to improve the quality and appropriateness of the data. For example,
- using satellite imagery (AFRICOVER) to improve estimates of crop establishment;
- re-orienting the clinic based nutritional surveillance towards a more survey based form of data collection and stratifying samples on the basis of food economy groups;
- employing a livestock economist within the FSAU to build up a data base on livestock populations and different areas and types of rangeland. The specialist would also develop an analytical framework (probably using NDVI data) for assessing the impact of shocks on livestock populations and production systems;
- collecting information by district for each food economy group on those factors which constrain attainment of subsistence levels of food security or development potential, e.g. lack of human and agricultural resources, absence of transport infrastructure, distance from water sources, etc. It should also be possible to rank the significance of these factors based on key informant interviews. This type of analysis would assist the programming decisions of agencies working in the rehabilitation and development sectors;
- enhancing the early warning potential of the information by finding out what types of information would be useful for different user groups within Somalia and providing these data in a utilisable form. For example, predictions of risk of rainfall failure from the World Meteorological Office or information on the introduction of new custom regulations for export of particular commodities to a particular country.
Although easy to pay lipservice to the concept, the review also determined that there needed to be more capacity building, for example including local NGOs and government officials in all assessment training workshops currently operated by the FSAU. Appointment of a Somali assistant-co-ordinator would also ensure the feasibility of transferring the system to a Somali administration in the event of conflict resolution and stable government. The reviewers concluded that:
- the FSAU was one of the most sophisticated food security information systems currently operating in sub-Saharan Africa-and that this achievement was all the more notable given the difficulties of working in present day Somalia.
- there were many lessons to be learnt from the experience of developing the FSAU particularly for those establishing food information systems in similarly war affected countries.
The full review will be available from the Oxford Policy Management Group by the end of the year.
For more information contact: Jeremy Shoham, Co-editor, Field Exchange E-mail: email@example.com
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Reference this page
An information system in exile - Is it working?. Field Exchange 5, October 1998. p21. www.ennonline.net/fex/5/working