Wednesday, October 16, 2013

FAO's hunger data - getting better

IRIN: In 2012 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) attracted criticism for its methods of calculating the number of hungry people in the world in its annual report, the State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI). The debate continues in 2013, with a calculated total of 842 million, or 12 percent of the world's population, experiencing chronic hunger over the past two years.

The FAO announced in 2012 that it was exploring new ways to measure "hunger", "food insecurity" and "undernourishment" - terms that are often used interchangeably. The 2013 SOFI is an improvement over the 2012 report, say experts, but there are still problems with the quality of data.

At issue is the prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) - the main indicator FAO uses to calculate the global numbers. Questions have been raised about not only how the indicator is constructed, but how it is used and who uses it to measure hunger at a single point in time and to track trends over time.

Perhaps the fiercest critics of FAO's methodology in 2012 were a group of scholars in the US and Canada, who raised their concerns in Framing Hunger: A Response to SOFI 2012.

"A measure of chronic undernourishment, [the PoU] is defined as inadequate calorie intake lasting more than one year. The estimate is based on minimal calorie requirements to engage in a 'sedentary lifestyle'. This threshold, and the requirement that the undernourishment last at least a year, makes the measure quite restrictive, as it leaves out those suffering serious hunger for a shorter period, such as from a spike in food prices," said Timothy Wise, Director of Research and Policy Program at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, one of the authors of the report....

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