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Alternative food security indicators

Summary of published paper

In an effort to construct a series of alternative food security indicators researchers have conducted a study* on the 'frequency' and 'severity' of coping strategies in 559 households in Greater Accra, Ghana. Through focus group discussion a simple set of questions was derived and agreed upon identifying the most common coping behaviours used by households in times of food shortage. These behaviours/strategies were then ranked or weighted for severity. The combination of the frequency with which these strategies were used and the perceived degree of severity associated with such a strategy resulted in a simple quantitative score. The higher the composite score, the more coping strategies reported, and the more food insecure the household. For example, for one of the composite indicators a score of 18 was equivalent to relying on two moderately severe coping strategies for more than half of the days in the month prior to the survey. As expected the average number of times a particular coping strategy was employed decreased with the severity of that strategy. Purchase of cheaper foods was the most common strategy, rationing money to buy street food was the second most common and mothers or adults reducing intake was the third. Skipping meals for whole days was the least frequent overall and borrowing was the second least frequently reported.

Cut-off points for these composite indicators were based on the percentile position of the indicator in the overall distribution of respondent scores. Two percentiles were used (60th and 70th percentile). These cut-off points were then used to identify households at risk of food insecurity.

The coping strategy indicator scores were then compared with more standard measures of food security/insecurity for each household including a consumption, a poverty and a nutritional benchmark. Analysis showed that the coping strategy indices do not identify the same households as food insecure as the benchmark indicators.

The authors of the study then made the assumption that the best benchmark measure with which to validate their newly derived indicators of food insecurity would be a composite of caloric availability (< 2320 kcals) and more than 50-60% of the household budget being devoted to food. Analysis showed that there was a stronger correlation between those households identified as food insecure by the coping strategy composites and this 'gold standard' than with the individual benchmark indicators. Other advantages proposed by the authors for coping strategy indicators over the more traditional benchmark indicators were that:

Show footnotes

*Alternative food security indicators; revisiting the frequency and severity of coping strategies. Maxwell. D., et al. Food Policy 24 (1999), pp 411-429

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Reference this page

Alternative food security indicators. Field Exchange 8, November 1999. p8. www.ennonline.net/fex/8/alternative