The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will soon test a new, faster and more precise way of measuring hunger and food insecurity in four pilot countries in Africa.
The new approach relies on gathering information on the extent and severity of hunger from food-insecure people, through a carefully-designed annual survey to be conducted in collaboration with polling specialists Gallup, Inc, the agency said in a news release.
Known as the Voices of the Hungry project, the new approach will be tested beginning this month on a pilot basis in Angola, Ethiopia, Malawi and Niger.
These countries have agreed to move towards the complete eradication of hunger, in line with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Zero Hunger challenge.
The plan is to then extend the survey to more than 160,000 respondents in up to 150 countries covered by the Gallup World Poll and to publish updated results on each country every year.
The project will run for five years and will lead to the establishment of a new FAO-certified standard for food security monitoring that could then be easily adopted by other household surveys.
"This innovative method will be an essential tool for governments, civil society and other national and international organizations in the fight against hunger," says Jomo Sundaram, FAO Assistant Director-General for Economic and Social Development.
"It will also be key to increasing the accountability of governments and in encouraging them to commit to hunger eradication."
FAO noted that, despite recent improvements, the methodology it currently uses is not able to provide a comprehensive picture of the many dimensions of hunger.
Right now, FAO is able to accurately monitor food availability at the national level, particularly in terms of potential energy intake.
The new tool will measure food access at the individual level, and will provide a clearer idea of personal experiences with food insecurity.
As part of the pilot project, nationally representative samples of 1,000 to 5,000 people, depending on the size of the country, will be selected to answer eight questions designed to reveal whether and how respondents have experienced food insecurity in the previous 12 months.
They will be asked questions such as - During the last 12 months, was there a time when, because of lack of money or other resources: You were worried you would run out of food?; You were unable to eat healthy and nutritious food?; You ate only a few kinds of foods?; You had to skip a meal?
"This is an exciting new initiative for FAO because it will enable us to better understand the severity of food insecurity in a cost-effective and timely way," says Carlo Cafiero, the FAO statistician in charge of the project. "It will also provide FAO with an affordable and methodologically consistent tool for monitoring hunger worldwide."
Results of the surveys will be available in days rather than years, allowing FAO to take an almost real-time snapshot of a nation's food insecurity situation.