Data collection,  India,  Survey data

Why harmonization of food security measurement in phone surveys is needed: Lessons from India


Food security is essential for a healthy and productive population. In 1996, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that food security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” FAO recognized four dimensions to measuring food security: availability, access, utilization, and stability.

Why measurement is important

Measurement is imperative to describe the severity of and changes in food security within and across countries and, on a more detailed level, to identify subpopulations most vulnerable to food insecurity. Reliable and accurate measurement can drive diagnoses and responses for cost-effective targeting of policies and programs. There are several tools to measure food security, including the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS), and the Food Consumption Scale, that estimate individual or household levels of food security in order to determine national estimates. Selecting the appropriate tool may be a challenge, as variability of food dimensions captured by each tool exists. Harmonizing measurement and the use of tools will advance the monitoring of changes in food security over time and standardize the interpretation of findings.

Our findings

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, various development partners conducted phone surveys in India to measure food security. A review of 15 questionnaires from 11 research organizations that conducted surveys in India during the lockdown period, between April and September 2020, was conducted.  We examined the similarities and differences across questionnaires, domains of food insecurity captured by each survey, and adaptations made from in-person to phone-based surveys. We observed that most of the surveys capturing food security had used or adapted the FIES or the HFIAS tool. Food access was the most measured domain across all the surveys – questions sought to understand barriers to accessing food, the food sources, and the quantity procured from government schemes/programs. There were differences in the recall period and framing of questions. To capture abrupt changes as a result of COVID-19 related lockdowns, some were adapted by using shorter recall periods or asking specifically about the lockdown period. Most organizations made adaptations for suitability in phone surveys, but questions varied across food security domain and whether they were asked at the household or individual level.

Our brief

The brief summarizes our review findings from the phone survey tools used by various research organizations to measure household food security. In addition, the brief proposes a set of questions to harmonize food security measurement in India. A standardized set of questions would allow for comparable data collection over location, time, and population group and support collaborative analyses across research groups.


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