Measuring the scope of world hunger is a long and complicated process. Often officials and policymakers don’t have the most up-to-date information. Now, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the FAO, hopes to change that with a new project called Voices of the Hungry.
The U.N. agency wants to hear from the people themselves and not just evaluate various data, studies and reports. Senior statistician Carlo Cafiero said that the current system of measuring food supplies and hunger, while important, is subject to long delays.
“From the moment in which this data is collected to the moment in which it’s cleared, processed, sent to us, there may be two or three years delay. And this is if we have current information because consumption surveys are not regular features done annually – not even in the developed countries,” he said.
Food consumption surveys are generally conducted every five years.
“We don’t have a pulse of the current situation. And this became very apparent during the food price crisis,” he said.
In 2007 many predicted a global economic recession and food prices began to rise. Cafiero says that led to – what he calls – a very pessimistic scenario about food consumption.
“Only a few years later, we have discovered, for example, that China and India and many other developing countries did not slow down in their economic growth. The pessimistic scenario did not really materialize in each and every country. And that is where the model based prediction to make an estimate of the current situation proved mistaken.”
The new Voices of the Hungry project is described as fast and more precise. It will use surveys of individuals to gather information on the extent and severity of hunger. The surveys will be done annually in collaboration with survey giant Gallup.
The project will be tested in the coming months in Angola, Ethiopia, Malawi and Niger.
“These are individual surveys in which people are contacted either by phone or in person. So, there will be a national representative sample of individuals, who are asked questions about their experiences. And from the answers to these questions, we can estimate the severity of food insecurity that has affected them and their families,” said Cafiero.
The survey asks individuals about their experiences over the past 12 months, such as were they worried they would run out of food? Or, did they skip meals or go without eating for an entire day? There are eight questions in all.
The statistician said that the survey is not subjective and the information will be evaluated by experts. It takes only three months from the time a survey is taken to the time Food and Agriculture officials receive the information.
Voices of the Hungry surveys will eventually be expanded to 160,000 respondents in 150 countries. The five-year project will lead to a new FAO standard for food security.