Monitoring Access to Food

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Food and Nutrition Security (FNS) has different dimensions: availability, access, utilization and stability, as well as different levels: national, community, household, and individual. There is a growing interest to assess and analyze the FNS situation of communities (groups), households and individuals. During the design phase of development interventions it is important to have a proper understanding of the problematic and potential pathways for improvement of the FNS situation. During implementation It is also important to monitor outputs and impact on the FNS situation of communities, households and individuals.

Dimensions and levels of Food and Nutrition Security

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Household food security depends on availability of adequate food at the local level. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition to achieve adequate food access at the household level. Household access to adequate food, in turn, is necessary but not sufficient for adequate food consumption or utilization at individual level. All of these conditions have to be in place at all times, which implies stability of supplies of inputs, food and prices.

Given the various dimensions and levels of FNS, measuring food (in)security has been an ongoing challenge to researchers and practitioners. Macroeconomic planners look at availability of food at national level (e.g. FAO food balance sheets and National Demographic and Health surveys). Development programs focus in general on availability at the local level, access at the household level and/or food utilization at the individual level.

Measurement of access to food is critical, not only to food and nutrition security programs, but to all programs that aim to contribute to poverty alleviation and sustainable livelihoods. Changes in agricultural productivity and income indicate changes in a household’s ability to acquire food, but these indicators do not confirm that a household actually acquired and consumed these foods.

There is broad experience with household-level measures of food access, such as income and caloric adequacy. However, they turn out to be technically difficult, data-intensive, and costly to collect. The same goes for measuring nutritional status based on anthropometric data at individual level. Therefore ICCO decided to build on the work and findings of the USAID supported Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance Project.1

The above mentioned FANTA project has developed and validated a tool, which is called the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale - HFIAS.2 The method is based on the idea that the experience of food insecurity (access) causes predictable reactions and responses that can be captured and quantified through a survey and summarized in a scale. Extensive qualitative research provided insight into the ways that households experience food insecurity (access), as presented below:

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  • Feelings of uncertainty or anxiety over food (situation, resources, or supply);
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  • Perceptions that food is of insufficient quantity (for adults and children);
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  • Perceptions that food is of insufficient quality (includes aspects of dietary diversity, nutritional adequacy, preference);

  • Reported reductions of food intake (for adults and children);
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  • Reported consequences of reduced food intake (for adults and children); and

  • Feelings of shame for resorting to socially unacceptable means to obtain food resources.

Based on a growing body of evidence a set of 9 “occurrence questions” plus a set of 9 “frequency-of-occurrence” questions was defined, referring to behaviors and attitudes that relate to these various aspects. The questions refer to increasing severity of food insecurity ‘domains’, such as anxiety over food, insufficient dietary quality, and the quantity of food. This set has been used in several countries and appear to distinguish the food secure from the insecure households across different cultural contexts. The questions address the situation of all household members and do not distinguish adults from children or adolescents.

Utilization of HFIAS data

The HFIAS can be added to a standard baseline and final evaluation survey. The information generated by the HFIAS can be used for the following purposes:

  • to assign households and populations along a continuum of severity, from food secure to severely food insecure.
  • to assess the prevalence of household food insecurity (access) (e.g., for geographic targeting)
  • to detect changes in the household food insecurity (access) situation of a population over time (e.g., for monitoring and evaluation).

When using the scale to determine impact, it is important to follow the standard sampling methods commonly used in evaluations. A detailed discussion of sampling can be found here: Sampling Guide (with 2012 Addendum).


  1. Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance III Project (FANTA),
  2. USAID, Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance Project (FANTA). Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) for Measurement of Food Access: Indicator Guide, version 3, 2007


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