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SDGs 1 & 2: Meeting the demand for more and better household survey data

Alberto Zezza's picture

Household survey data constitute a cornerstone of the statistical toolkit for addressing the data needs for the monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on poverty and hunger. A seminar convened today by the FAO and the World Bank, under the aegis of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Food Security, Agricultural and Rural Statistics during the 48th Session of the UN Statistical Commission will provide chief statisticians of several low- and middle-income countries an opportunity to discuss a common agenda for fostering the adoption and implementation of a new set of guidelines for the measurement of food consumption data in household surveys.
 
Food constitutes a key component of a number of fundamental dimensions of well-being: food security, nutrition, health, and poverty. It makes up the largest share of total household expenditure in low-income countries, accounting on average for about 50 percent of the household budget. Low levels of food access contributed to an estimated 800 million individuals who were chronically undernourished in 2014-16.
 
Proper measurement of food consumption is therefore central to the assessment and monitoring of the well-being of any population, and to several development domains: social, economic, and human. Food consumption data are needed to monitor global and national goals including the SDGs. But the measurement of food consumption data is also crucial for assessing and guiding FAO’s mandate to eradicate hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition, as well as the World Bank’s twin goals of eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

The main vehicles used to collect information on food consumption are Household Consumption or Expenditure Surveys (HCES) conducted on nationally representative samples. In view of the urge to harmonize surveys and ensure the data collected respond to the need of a wide range of users, the World Bank and FAO (with support from the Global Strategy on Agricultural and Rural Statistics) have convened several like-minded partners, including national statistical offices and experts from academia, around a common research agenda toward the improvement and harmonization of food consumption modules in HCES. The group included an unlikely alliance of economists, statisticians, food security experts, and nutritionists to ensure the highest informational value can be extracted from the survey data to satisfy as wide as possible a range of analytical applications. The result of these efforts is a preliminary set of internationally agreed recommendations for survey design that countries can adopt in future HCES in order to collect more and better food consumption data. 
 
The draft guidelines are being presented today to delegates attending the 48th Session of the UN Statistical Commission by Prof. John Gibson of Waikato University in New Zealand, a leading expert in the measurement of poverty and undernourishment based on household surveys, and the author of very influential publications in these areas. The guidelines address crucial survey design issues such as the use of diaries and recall interviews, the length of the recall period, seasonality, the measurement of food away from home, the number of food items to be included, and more.
 
The recommendations in these draft guidelines are aimed at assisting practitioners to improve survey design with due regard to the cost of the survey organization and to the constraints that statistical offices in low- and middle-income countries face. The recommendations, which will need to evolve over time as additional research and new technologies become available, will be instrumental in guiding a global program of survey methodology research to help the global statistical community fill the many remaining knowledge gaps in this domain.
 
The discussion at the UN Statistical Commission is a milestone in an ongoing partnership between FAO and the LSMS team at the World Bank, which started in 2014 with a technical workshop in Rome on Improving the Relevance and Reliability of Food Data from Household Consumption and Expenditure Surveys, in which several of the technical and methodological research questions informing the draft guidelines presented today in New York were first discussed. That workshop was followed by a second Expert Consultation, also in Rome, in November 2016. The objective for today’s event is to kick-start a process of global consultation that will eventually lead to an international agreement on a set of key principles in the design of surveys collecting food consumption and expenditure data in low and middle-income countries.
 
For more information on these past events (including presentations and webcasts) and for today’s presentation, please go to: http://go.worldbank.org/E0QUSB5XB0