Accurately measuring food security has proven to be a stubborn problem. Though measuring actual consumption is extremely time consuming and tedious, the humanitarian community needs information in real-time for early warning, needs assessments, targeting, and the monitoring and evaluation of programs. This has led to the search for indicators of a complex phenomenon, which provide reliable results quickly and without major expense in data collection.

One of these indicators (the Coping Strategies Index) was developed by a Feinstein researcher (Dan Maxwell) and adapted to emergency application at the center. Another (the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale) was developed by a visiting fellow (Jennifer Coates). These and a variety of other indicators have been incorporated into field surveys of other studies in order to assess their applicability, cost, reliability, and internal, external, and construct validity.

How Do Indicators of Household Food Insecurity Measure Up? An Empirical Comparison from Ethiopia

This paper compares how the most frequently used indicators of food security portray static and dynamic food security among the same sample of rural households in two districts of Tigray State, Northern Ethiopia. Seven food security indicators were assessed: the Coping Strategies Index (CSI); the Reduced Coping Strategies Index (rCSI); the Household Food Insecurity and Access Scale (HFIAS); the Household Hunger Scale (HHS); Food Consumption Score (FCS); the Household Dietary Diversity Scale (HDDS); and a self-assessed measure of food security (SAFS).

These indicators provide very different estimates of the prevalence of food insecurity. Noting this, the authors suggest explanations for differences in prevalence estimates, and in some cases for the weaker than expected correlation between indicators. Published in Food Policy in August 2014.

Market Information and Food Insecurity Response Analysis

This paper outlines the rationale for “response analysis” and introduces a new, field-tested, systematic approach to this emergent activity: Market Information and Food Insecurity Response Analysis (MIFIRA). MIFIRA provides a question-based framework to guide practitioners in determining whether to use food-based or cash-based support. Published in Food Security in February 2009.

Measuring Food Insecurity: Can an Indicator Based on Localized Coping Behaviors be Used to Compare Across Contexts?

This paper analyzes data from 14 surveys in crisis-affected or chronically vulnerable countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that incorporated the context-specific Coping Strategies Index (CSI). The authors identify a sub-set of individual coping behaviors common to all surveys, and from this subset create a reduced index.

The original data is re-analyzed using this index, and the results suggest that an indicator based on common behaviors could be used to compare the types of food security crises analyzed here across different contexts – particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa – to improve geographic targeting and resource allocation, according to the severity of crises. Published in Food Policy in December 2008.