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Sara.Gustafson
Full Summary of Food Security Information Dialogue

Using Food Security Information to Improve Food Access and Nutrition

Reliable, timely data is crucial to fight hunger and malnutrition and to drive overall development in Africa south of the Sahara; however, significant research and data gaps exist, in terms of both the availability of information and the effective, transparent use of that information by policymakers. (For further discussion of existing research gaps, read about our side event at the recent 2016 ReSAKSS Conference). Improving food security information (FSI) is therefore a development goal that goes hand-in-hand with eradicating hunger.

On November 29-30, the Africa south of the Sahara Food Security Portal held a virtual dialogue to discuss how FSI can be improved to address the region’s food access and nutrition needs. The event brought together a panel of experts to lead the discussion and respond to participants’ comments and questions; the experts included Mohamed Ag Bendech, FAO, Senior Nutrition officer (Ghana); Maurice Lorka N'Guessan, African Union, Leading the CAADP Biennial Review Process; Sheryl Hendriks, University of Pretoria, SA, Director of Insitute for Food, Nutrition, and Wellbeing; Professor Joyce Kinabo, Sokoine University, Tanzania; Simon Kimenju, Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development; and Abdoulaye Ka, National Coordinator, Senegal Cellule de Lutte contre la Malnutrition.

There were four main questions raised during the dialogue with the corresponding summary of comments:

What types of FSI mechanisms/tools are in use to track market access, prices, and nutrition at a household level? 

Both governments and development partners have stepped up efforts to increase and improve food security information in recent years and a number of tools have been developed to improve the collection and use of food and nutrition security-related data. For example, the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) is a global initiative co-sponsored by FAO, WFP, and IFPRI to strengthen food and nutrition security information systems for producing reliable and accurate data to guide analysis and decision-making. Both dialogue experts and participants identified a number of general indicators and data sources as important to include in Food Security Information, including household budget surveys to track consumption and spending patterns, anthropometric data to assess nutrition status, and weather data to track rainfall patterns.

Experts then provided examples of country-specific FSI tools in use throughout the region that work under various mandates to collect a range of food security and nutrition indicators at the national, local, and household levels. Also provided were examples of agencies and organizations involved in the collection and analysis of Food Security Information. While not comprehensive of every agency collecting and tracking in the region, the list included: Burkina Faso’s DGESS (Directorate-General for Sectoral Studies and Statistics); the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG); and various government ministries and civil sector organizations in Tanzania, including the Ministry of Labor and Employment, Ministry of Water, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the Poverty Eradication Division of the Ministry of Finance, the President’s Office, the Planning Commission, the Bank of Tanzania, the Eastern African Statistical Training Centre, Research on Poverty Alleviation, the Economic and Social Research Foundation, and the University of Dar es Salaam.

The conversation regarding existing FSI data and mechanisms also highlighted the fact that much important data remains hard to find and that many efforts to collect such data are redundant, uncoordinated, or too broad in scope. See Question 3 below for full coverage of the discussion regarding gaps in data that remain to be addressed.

What do countries need to enable them to effectively adopt and use FSI tools to set national priorities? 

In order to improve their data collection and use of FSI, governments throughout the region will need to overcome several roadblocks, including insufficient funding and a lack of coordination and information-sharing among food security stakeholders. Mohamed Ag Bendech drew attention to the changing global agri-food system, stating that country-level strategies need to focus on the entire food supply chain rather than on “single point interventions of the past.” To expand this lens, both the public and the private sector, as well as civil society actors and international organizations, must work together and have clear roles.

Participants echoed the problem of communication and coordination as a major challenge to improving FSI. Simla Tokgoz of IFPRI highlighted MAFAP-FAO and the Ag-Incentives Consortium as examples of successful collaboration between international organizations and local experts. She emphasized that including both international organizations and local analysts in data collection and, most importantly, data analysis would also help increase data quality and identify data gaps. 

 Sheryl Hendricks emphasized that the first step in improving the use of FSI in the region is the establishment of an agreed-upon, standardized set of indicators to track and report on progress toward national and regional food security goals. She listed the SDGs and the CAADP Results Framework as good starting points for countries to agree upon indicators. However, countries throughout the region still need to make progress on implementing the CAADP Framework, particularly the monitoring and evaluating of progress.

Mohamed Ag Bendech and Abdoulaye Ka both mentioned the importance of increasing countries’ technical capacity to track and report upon FSI indicators and goals; the FAO’s Community of Practice groups were highlighted as one channel through which to do so.

Increasing both collaboration and funding will require governments in the region to establish proper enabling environments and regulatory frameworks that help private sector actors effectively and inclusively modernize food value chains in the region.

What gaps in data exist regarding food access and nutrition in the region? 

Simon Kimenju highlighted nationally-representative food consumption data at the household level as one key missing piece; while integrated household budget surveys cover expenditures on food items, they do not provide information regarding the quantities of food purchased and/or consumed.

Joyce Kinabo and several other participants discussed the need for data on agricultural commodities other than staple cereal crops. In many countries in Africa south of the Sahara, cash crops (such as cocoa, coffee, and oilseeds) play an important role in farmers’ incomes and in export tax revenues; however, it is difficult to find price and production data for these important crops. Data covering food loss and waste along agricultural value chains is also needed to gain a clearer picture of food production and availability in the region.

In terms of addressing nutrition, data regarding micronutrient deficiencies and seasonal availability of nutritionally important crops were highlighted as important gaps to be filled. Sheryl Hendricks mentioned the need to better analyze the nutrition data collected through Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS); she also highlighted the need for increased collection and analysis of sub-regional data. Participants also brought up the problem of inconsistencies in food consumption data; for example, food balance sheets, which are often used in the calculation of undernourishment levels, are often limited to cereals and tubers and thus miss other important, nutritious food sources, such as pulses.

Finally, issues of data quality, relevance, and timeliness were discussed. The aforementioned focus on cereals and tubers, to the neglect of other crops and indigenous food sources, could mean that the data being collected regarding malnourishment and nutrition is not truly representative of the conditions “on the ground.” One participant suggested that food and nutrition data need to be defined and identified based on a country’s local conditions and circumstances. In addition, the collection of data is often fragmented across multiple actors (government ministries, research organizations, etc.). Such data needs to be better integrated, again highlighting the need for coordination and communication among Food Security Information stakeholders.  

How would an effective institutional landscape for the collection and utilization of FSI for food access and nutrition look? 

Experts and participants agreed that an effective institutional Food Security Information landscape needs space to include a wide range of stakeholders (both public and private) and to take a multi-sectoral approach. Sheryl Hendricks emphasized the importance of utilizing and improving local research institutions, while Mohamed Ag Bendech suggested the use of knowledge-sharing platforms provided through a centralized website, such as the African Union Commission’s current effort to create an African Union Centre of Best Practices for Food Security.

Such platforms will require increased coordination and cooperation among stakeholders, however, as well as a clearer identification of accurate, reliable, and relevant data. It was suggested that overall coordination, monitoring, and evaluation of FSI efforts remain the priority of high-level government ministries such as the Prime Minister’s Office or Ministries of Finance or Planning; funding for coordination of FSI work should stem from national budgets. Simon Kimenju suggested that key ministries or National Statistics Bureaus could host a team of Food Security Information researchers to oversee broader data collection and analysis efforts. Participants did also call for greater local ownership of data collection efforts, as well as for a clear role and incentives for private sector actors.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI