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Measuring food insecurity: Can an indicator based on localized coping behaviors be used to compare across contexts?

Maxwell, Daniel, Caldwell, Richard, Langworthy, Mark
Food policy 2008 v.33 no.6 pp. 533-540
food security, human behavior, coping strategies, household surveys, statistical analysis, geographical variation, monitoring, Sub-Saharan Africa
The Coping Strategies Index (CSI) was developed as a context-specific indicator of food insecurity that counts up and weights coping behaviors at the household level. It has proven useful to operational humanitarian agencies and researchers in measuring localized food insecurity, but to date has not been useful to compare the relative severity of different crises and has therefore has not been particularly useful for geographic targeting or resource allocation. This paper analyzes data from 14 surveys in crisis-affected or chronically vulnerable countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that incorporated the context-specific CSI. The paper identifies a sub-set of individual coping behaviors common to all surveys, whose severity is regarded as broadly similar by households across these studies. Data from these studies were re-analyzed using a reduced index constructed from only these behaviors. Correlations of this new index with other known food security indicators are similar to those of the complete, context-specific CSI. This suggests the possibility that an indicator based on these common behaviors could be used to compare the types of food security crises analyzed here across different contexts -- particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa -- to improve geographic targeting and resource allocation, according to the severity of crises. This new, more comparative indicator can be generated with no loss to the context-specific nature of the original CSI, which has proven useful for assessment and monitoring purposes.