Table of contents

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FAO (2000) Handbook for defining and setting up a food security information and early warning system (FSIEWS). Devereaux, S. And Maxwell, S. (2001) Food

    Food Security Information for Action

    Food Security Information Systems and Networks

    Lesson 1

     Food Security Information Systems

    Learner Notes

    This course is funded by the European Union and implemented

    by the Food and Agriculture Organization.

    ? FAO, 2007

Course: Food Security Information for Action. Unit: Food Security Information Systems and Networks

    . Lesson 1. Food Security Information Systems

    Table of contents

    Learning objectives............................................................................................ 2 Introduction ...................................................................................................... 2 FSIS and the decision making process ................................................................ 3 Data collection and management; primary and secondary data. ........................... 5 Data and the food security dimensions ............................................................... 6 The analysis: transforming data into information ................................................. 7 Communication, Users, Applications ................................................................... 8 Summary ........................................................................................................ 13 If you want to know more ................................................................................ 13

    1 Learner Notes

Course: Food Security Information for Action. Unit: Food Security Information Systems and Networks

    . Lesson 1. Food Security Information Systems

Learning objectives

At the end of this lesson you will be able to:

    ? understand the main objectives of a food security information system (FSIS); ? understand how key components of food security information systems support decision

    making processes;

    ? understand the main purposes for which food security analysis is conducted; and ? identify the main users of and applications for food security information products.


    This lesson will help you understand the objectives, purposes and functions of food security information systems (FSIS).

    Well-analysed information on the food security situation of different population groups is a critical resource for decision makers tasked with addressing food insecurity concerns.

This lesson introduces a basic framework to describe the various components of an

    information system.

We will examine how these components combine to produce outputs that meet the needs of

    decision makers.

    2 Learner Notes

Course: Food Security Information for Action. Unit: Food Security Information Systems and Networks

    . Lesson 1. Food Security Information Systems

FSIS and the decision making process

Ensuring the food security of its citizens is an important development goal for all governments.

This goal is embedded in numerous national policy statements. At the global level, governments

    have agreed to cooperate in reducing by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

    by 2015. This is stated as the first of the Millennium Development Goals.

In support of achieving this goal, decision makers need to know who the food insecure are, and

    the nature and causes of their food insecurity. This information is critical for planners, financiers

    and other decision makers to formulate and implement appropriate food security policies and

    programmes, and assess progress.

    The objective of a FSIS is to provide well analysed food security information to decision makers, and (as all information systems aim to do) to support the decision

    making process. In fact:

    ? Information is a critical resource in the operation and management of organizations.

    The availability of relevant and timely information is vital for the effective performance

    of managerial functions such as planning, organizing, leading and control.

    ? A system is a set of components that operate together to achieve a common purpose

    or objective. For example a computer system consists of a CPU, keyboard, mouse,

    screen and operating system. Each of these components is necessary for the computer

    system as a whole to work.


    The effectiveness of a food security information system depends on the analytical and

    communication capacity of the staff running the system; other factors include good

    institutional support, appropriate methods, and adequate information technology, including

    computer hardware and software.

    3 Learner Notes

Course: Food Security Information for Action. Unit: Food Security Information Systems and Networks

    . Lesson 1. Food Security Information Systems

Food security is a complex subject with different dimensions that span across a large

    number of sectors and issues. Consequently:

1. Many different information systems may contribute data and analysis for building a

    comprehensive understanding of food security.

    2. Food security information must be well communicated to a wide range of potential


    3. These users may need to apply this information for a range of different decision

    making purposes.

Food security analysis is conducted differently by various information systems, depending on

    the primary purpose for which the analysis is done.

    The following are the main purposes:

     market transparency (providing traders and consumers with current market data to

    ensure movement of food from surplus to deficit areas) early warning (addressing short term food availability questions)

     emergency needs assessment (short term analysis for effective response)

     vulnerability analysis (short and medium term analysis of household or individual

    exposure to risk factors and their ability to cope with shocks) household food security analysis (medium term analysis of socio-economic

    dimensions including purchasing power, intra-household food distribution)

     policy and programme formulation (food security analysis is conducted in context

    of longer term development planning)

     monitoring and evaluation (programme design to address food security concerns

    must be assessed to see whether they have the desired impact) advocacy (only through effective communication and strong messages based on in-

    depth analysis of underlying causes and outcomes of food insecurity, will we be able to

    draw the attention of policy makers and achieve results)

    4 Learner Notes

Course: Food Security Information for Action. Unit: Food Security Information Systems and Networks

    . Lesson 1. Food Security Information Systems

Analysts running a FSIS conduct a series of actions, or steps, which should result in improved

    decision making.

    This process consists of the following sequential steps:

    1. First, data is collected and managed using appropriate survey and data

    management techniques and software, where appropriate.

    2. Second, this data is analyzed to make it useful for decision makers.

     Analyzed data is called information.

    3. Third, the information must be communicated through appropriate reports so that

    it is acted upon. Information that is assimilated by users becomes knowledge.

Data collection and management; primary and secondary


Let us look at the data that a FSIS analyst uses in more detail.

Data is the raw material for an information system. Data consists of unanalyzed facts or

    figures. For example, a system may collect data on rainfall, agricultural production or market

    prices. In its raw state data is not particularly useful to decision makers.

    Data needs to be carefully stored and managed within an information system. It should be processed, quality controlled and stored in an accessible format for future analysis.

    The availability of timely and high quality data is often a limiting constraint to the performance

    of an information system.

But who collects data, and how? People running an information system may be directly

    responsible for collecting data through monitoring systems, surveys, case studies, censuses or

    remote sensing instruments. There are basically two kinds of data:

    Example 1. Primary data Example of Primary data: Measurements made by the operators of A market information system may collect

     any information system themselves. primary data on product prices in a

     number of markets.

    5 Learner Notes

Course: Food Security Information for Action. Unit: Food Security Information Systems and Networks

    . Lesson 1. Food Security Information Systems


    2. Secondary data Example of Secondary data:

    An information system may also use data Several information systems would draw

     that has been previously gathered by on secondary data from the national

    another system. This is called “secondary population census.


     They would be unlikely to collect

    population data independently as it would Data and the food security dimensions be costly and unnecessary.

     Let us look in a little more detail at the types of data and variables that a FSIS collects and

    analyzes. Data needs are determined by the broad scope of the four food security dimensions.

    1According to its basic definition, food security can be measured in its four dimensions:


    Measures whether a wide variety of food is available at farms and in local markets.


    Measures whether people have enough money to purchase a variety of foods.


    Refers to the capacity of the human body to absorb the food eaten in an environment that

    supplies appropriate care, clean water, good sanitation and health services.


    Refers to the vulnerability context and risk factors that impact negatively on food availability or

    access to food.

Therefore, comprehensive food security analysis requires data to support the measurement of

    each of these four dimensions.

1 Basic Definition of Food Security:

    Food security exists when people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. (Rome, World Food Summit 1996).

    6 Learner Notes

Course: Food Security Information for Action. Unit: Food Security Information Systems and Networks

    . Lesson 1. Food Security Information Systems

    Each factor or variable is measured by its corresponding indicators. Some variables such as food production, may be measured or estimated directly. However,

    other variables are measured by the use of proxy or indirect indicators.


    For example, it is extremely difficult to measure actual food intake. Therefore, we may measure proxy indicators such as dietary diversity or number of meals per

    day. The assumption is that these proxies are closely correlated with the variable we wish to


    ! The factors leading to hunger can differ among and even within countries. A single set of

    indicators is not applicable across all countries and at all times.

The analysis: transforming data into information

A good food security analyst will use the available data to answer a series of questions:

    ? What is the current situation?

    ? Is there a problem? What is it?

    ? What is the evidence?

    ? What can we say about underlying causes?

    ? What could be done about the problem? Are there options?

These questions need to be answered in sequence to provide precise and convincing

    recommendations for action to decision makers. The answers cannot come from the data. They

    come from a good analysis of the data and from effective communication. Food security analysts transform the mass of raw data into information to support managers in their decision making.

    Information is analysed data that is presented in a form that is specifically designed for a given

    purpose or decision-making task. In other words, information is analysed data put into a

    meaningful and useful context.

    Good information appraises and notifies, surprises and stimulates, reduces uncertainty, reveals

    additional alternatives or helps eliminate irrelevant or poor ones, and most importantly,

    influences individuals and stimulates them to take action.

    7 Learner Notes

Course: Food Security Information for Action. Unit: Food Security Information Systems and Networks

    . Lesson 1. Food Security Information Systems

Communication, Users, Applications

    In order to become knowledge, the information needs to be understood and assimilated by

    the target audience. That is why an FSIS has to be very conscious about how best to

    communicate the analysis and information that they produce. The users of food security information systems are often located in a different organization from the information providers.

    This requires the FSIS to use effective communication strategies.

Communication may be done through different means and formats including written reports,

    verbal briefings and presentations, or indirectly through the media (internet, news media).

A common criticism made of FSIS is that too little of the analysis provided is utilized by decision

    makers. To improve the uptake of information it is necessary for a FSIS to actively support and

    publicise the recommendations made. This means more than disseminating reports and findings:

    it requires effective communication and advocacy. Here are some useful tips:


    In designing a communication and advocacy strategy, you need to consider the following issues:

     You need to understand the institutional arrangements and clarify who (both

    institutionally and individually) is responsible for which decisions. A stakeholder analysis

    is a useful tool for clarifying this. This sets the context for targeting key decision makers

    with the relevant analysis.

     Good communication is about winning the hearts and minds of power brokers. You have

    to engage with key people and ignite their interest.

     Communication needs to be persuasive. Examples of effective strategies may include

    the strategic use of hard-hitting oral presentations to convince decision-makers, or

    emphasizing cost-effectiveness to donors.

     Advocacy is about building consensus. Too often the FSIS stops at telling people there

    is a problem rather than building consensus on how to address the problem. In an ideal

    situation, advocacy needs to come from within the country, rather than be externally


     Influential, well-informed and respected people are necessary for driving

    communication. They should have access to power brokers who are, in turn, willing to


     Any action proposed needs to be doable.

    8 Learner Notes

    Course: Food Security Information for Action. Unit: Food Security Information Systems and Networks

    . Lesson 1. Food Security Information Systems

Finally, the FSIS need ongoing monitoring of how and if information is being used. This is

    important as it provides a measure of the value of the system. However, it is often neglected.

The information and reports generated by a FSIS will be useful to several stakeholder

    groups in different sectors of society. Users of FSIS products include:

1. Policy makers

    Policy-makers and their advisors in government (national level), who can direct funds and services to food insecure groups.

    They may come from the Office of the President or the Prime Minister (especially if they already have food security units are already located here), Ministries of Finance and Planning, and line ministries dealing with agriculture, environment, fisheries, forestry, health, and land.

2. Elected representatives

    Elected representatives at both national and local levels are important users, as they influence both policy and programming.

3. Government officials and technical staff

    Government officials and technical staff at national and sub-national levels (provinces and districts), who are directly involved in food security and nutrition research, planning, interventions or monitoring.

4. Local government authorities

    Local government authorities who are responsible for the day-to-day management of food security and nutrition interventions.

5. Civil society

    Civil society, specifically those members (non-governmental and community-based

    organisations), who are engaged in tackling problems of food insecurity within their countries and the media who may help to shape policy opinion and energize a response.

6. Private sector

    9 Learner Notes

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