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Food access

Modified on 2015/05/22 14:03 by Sean Zheng Paths: Read in Order Categorized as Chapter 2 - Food security
Table II.16

From gender issues to gender statistics on food access: illustrative examples


Policy-relevant questions Data needed Sources of data
Do female-headed households have similar levels of food consumption as male-headed households? Food quantities consumed/acquired per adult equivalent by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household.

Insufficient food supply and intake and anxiety about food, as reported by the household, by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household.
Household income and expenditure surveys /household budget surveys.

Living standards surveys.

Food and nutrition security surveys.

Thematic agricultural surveys.
Do female-headed households have the same quality diet as male-headed households?

Type of food groups consumed during a specified period and their frequency/quantity by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household.

Insufficient quality, as reported by the household, by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household.
Household income and expenditure surveys / household budget surveys.

Living standards surveys.

Food and nutrition security surveys.

Thematic agricultural surveys.
Do female-headed households invest more in food and the nutrition of family members than male-headed households? Food expenditure and total expenditure per adult equivalent by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household. Household income and expenditure surveys / household budget surveys.

Living standards surveys.
Do female-headed households and male-headed households implement different types of coping strategies in order to maintain acceptable food consumption levels? Changes in eating patterns due to food shortage and steps to alleviate food shortage by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household. Food and nutrition security surveys.

Living standards surveys.

Thematic agricultural surveys.
Are female-headed households exposed to changes in food access as often as male-headed households? Are female-headed households more affected by major shocks, including natural disasters, than male-headed households? Insufficient food supply, intake and quality and anxiety about food, as reported by the household, over the months of a year, by sex of the head of household, detailed type of household and reasons for food shortage.

Food quantities consumed/acquired per adult equivalent and number of times specific food groups are consumed by sex of the head of household and detailed type of household, before and after major shocks.
Food and nutrition security surveys.

Living standards surveys and other multipurpose surveys.

Thematic agricultural surveys.

Panel surveys, surveys conducted regularly at short intervals, and surveys conducted before and after major shocks.

  • + Gender issues
    • The world is producing enough food to feed its entire population, yet millions of people are undernourished (World Bank, 2007; World Bank, FAO and IFAD, 2009; FAO, 2011a). Food availability remains a concern in some agriculture-based societies, owing to declining domestic production per capita of food staples, large weather-induced fluctuations in agricultural yields obtained from rain-fed agricultural holdings and the high costs associated with getting food to remote areas (World Bank, 2007; World Bank, FAO and IFAD, 2009). However, food availability in a given area is only one constraint in ensuring food security. Most food-insecure people live in rural areas where food is produced. However, they are net food buyers rather than sellers and their access to food is limited by their low and irregular income (World Bank, 2007; World Bank, FAO and IFAD, 2009).

      Women tend to have less access than men to agricultural resources and inputs and agricultural and non-agricultural income-producing activities (World Bank, FAO and IFAD, 2009; United Nations, 2010; World Bank, 2011; FAO, 2011a). Therefore, households headed by women may not be as food secure as similar households headed by men. However, female-headed households cannot simply be assumed to have less access to food than male-headed households. Female- and male-headed households comprise a wide range of types of households that have different demographic, social and economic compositions, and which vary in terms of the livelihood strategies/portfolio of economic activities that would ensure adequate access to food.

      Nevertheless, when women are in a position to control income and resource allocation within the household, they tend to devote a significantly higher proportion of earnings to basic needs (e.g., good health education) by comparison to men (International Development Research Centre, 2004; Ramachandran, 2007). As a result, female-headed households may eat more or have a higher quality diet than male-headed households with a similar level of income.

      Stability of food access and vulnerability to potential shocks, such as economic crises, natural disasters and seasonal/cyclical weather events, may also be gender differentiated. Resiliency to shocks may be different for female-headed households than for male-headed households. Women and female-headed households have fewer assets and less access to agricultural resources to cope with change (FAO, 2011a; United Nations, 2010; World Bank, 2011). Individual women and men may also have different coping strategies. For example, a number of studies have shown that one of the most common mechanisms adopted by households facing a seasonal food shortage is for the women in the household to reduce their food consumption, as a first step, and then to skip meals, in order to ensure larger portions for the men and children (Barme and Ramachandran, 2002; Rahman, 2002; Ramachandran, 2007).

  • + Data needed
    • Data on food access are mainly collected at the household level and refer to food consumption in terms of dietary energy (calories), quality and diversity, and monetary value. Perception- or experience-based measures of food deprivation and coping strategies (changes in eating patterns and steps to alleviate food shortage), at the household level or at the individual level, are also used.

      (a) Quantities of food consumed/acquired in the household over a certain period of time by sex of the head of household. Based on this minimum set of data, a variety of measures can be constructed, such as dietary energy consumption/acquisition, the share of calories from protein/carbohydrates/fats, the contribution of each acquisition source to the total calories (if data on sources are collected) and dietary energy unit values (if data on household expenditures or prices are collected). Dietary energy consumption/acquisition should be adjusted for the sex and age composition of the household (i.e., use of adult equivalents);

      (b) Frequency of consumption of specific food groups over a certain period of time by sex of the head of household. According to the type of data collected and the recall period, information can be used to construct measures of food quality and diversity, such as the food consumption score (WFP, 2009a), the household dietary diversity score (Kennedy, Ballard and Dop, 2011) or both, as prescribed in the existing guidelines;

      (c) Insufficient food supply and intake, insufficient food quality and anxiety about food, as reported by the household, by sex of the head of household. These data can be used to construct perception- or experience-based measures of food deprivation, such as the household hunger scale and the Latin American and Caribbean food security scale;

      (d) Seasonality of food shortage (months in which food shortage occurred), reported changes in eating patterns (i.e., skipping meals, eating less expensive and less nutritious food and cutting the size of meals) and reported steps taken to alleviate food shortage (i.e., using savings, taking out loans, selling land, getting help from relatives, etc.) by sex of the head of household. Such data should also be collected in relation to major shocks, including natural disasters;

      (e) When possible, experience-based measures of food security at the individual level should also be considered and results should be disaggregated by sex, age and other individual and household characteristics. For example, the food insecurity experience scale, based on a set of eight questions designed to reveal whether and how respondents have experienced food insecurity in the past 12 months, is being piloted by FAO in collaboration with Gallup, Inc. Data are to be collected at the individual level, thereby making it possible to estimate the severity of food insecurity by sex, age and other individual characteristics. The use of an individual measure of the experience of food insecurity represents a novelty, since most often food security is measured at the household level, and an important step in measuring food insecurity from a gender perspective.

      The household-level measures listed above should be calculated separately for female- and male-headed households and further disaggregated by demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of the head of the household (including education and economic characteristics) and of the household (including size, composition, dependency level, income level and livelihood strategies/portfolio of economic activities) in order to understand which types of male- and female-headed households are disadvantaged in accessing food.

      Further breakdowns relevant for targeting aid and development programmes should be considered for all the data above. Commonly used breakdowns include urban/rural areas and geographical areas. Measures of remoteness from market places, including information on transportation and infrastructure, should also be considered. Additional data for cross-tabulation may refer to sex-differentiated access to property and productive resources in agriculture (see the subsection entitled “Access to productive resources in agriculture” in the section entitled “Work” above).

  • + List II.16

    Examples of indicators derived from gender statistics on food access
    • Mean adult equivalent daily dietary energy consumption/acquisition by sex of the head of household

      Dietary energy unit value ($/1,000 kcals) by sex of the head of household

      Share of calories from protein/carbohydrates/fats in total calories (%) by sex of the head of household

      Share of food expenditure in total household expenditure by sex of the head of household

      Mean household dietary diversity score or food consumption score by sex of the head of household


  • + Sources of data
    • Large scale household surveys, such as household income and expenditure surveys and household budget surveys, are not normally designed to carry out a food security assessment of the population. However, if collected properly, information from the food consumption module of such surveys can be used to estimate the amount of dietary energy consumed/acquired. Living standards surveys, such as LSMS, collect more comprehensive information on individual characteristics for all household members, allowing for a more detailed analysis of food access by detailed types of female- and male-headed households. Recently, LSMS surveys have started including modules on food group consumption frequency (for food consumption score calculation). Many LSMS surveys also collect information on shocks (including crop/livestock losses), which can be used in the context of a food security analysis. Living standards surveys and other multipurpose surveys may also be used to collect data on reported insufficient food supply, intake, and quality, anxiety about food and coping strategies during food shortage.

      Panel surveys, surveys conducted regularly at relatively short intervals (during the harvest and in the lean season) in order to capture seasonality in access to food and surveys conducted before and after major shocks in a country or over large areas may be used to collect data on food access over time. Such data can be used to construct measures of households’ vulnerability and stability in access to food.

      The World Food Programme (WFP) Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CFSVA) surveys are used to collect data on food consumption frequency, among other topics. However, CFSVA surveys tend to have smaller samples compared with LSMS surveys and do not collect data on food quantities. Some surveys also collect data on coping strategies, shocks and coping mechanisms, and monthly food deprivation.

      Agricultural censuses and surveys may be used to collect information on household food security. The topic is not recommended for inclusion as a core module in such censuses; however, it may be considered for integration, as supplementary items, in thematic agricultural surveys. These supplementary items may refer to reported insufficient quantity and quality of food, food shortages in a 12-month reference period, reasons for food shortage, changes in the household’s eating patterns, steps to alleviate food shortage and the extent of loss of agricultural output due to natural disasters (FAO, 2007).

  • + Conceptual and measurement issues
    • Despite a number of attempts to measure individual consumption and intrahousehold allocation of food, objective measures of access to food are essentially available only at the household level. Therefore, most gender analysis of food access is based on the sex of the household head. As such, it is crucial to establish proper criteria for identifying the household head and to ensure that these criteria are applied consistently for all the sampled households. Researchers should acknowledge that: (a) in some contexts it is useful to use the concept of joint headship; (b) it is essential to consider the marital status of the female head and to distinguish between de jure and de facto female-headed households; and (c) it is important to take into account the economic role of spouses not currently living in the household (i.e., does he or she send remittances?). All this information allows for a better identification of categories of female- and male-headed households that are vulnerable to food insecurity. The analyst can either use the household head as identified by the household during the data collection or use other socioeconomic variables to identify the household head during the analysis. Different identification rules may lead to different results.

      Household-level data on food consumption and deprivation cannot be used to draw conclusions on household members. When food access indicators are collected at the household level, the analysis has to rely on the (strong) assumption that all household members have equal access to food, without considering inequalities in food distribution within the household. Therefore, household-level data give only a superficial measure of gender-related differences in accessing food.

      Attempts have been made to measure the individual consumption of women and children. Much of the effort has been placed on measuring women’s diet diversity as a proxy of micronutrient deficiencies, rather than on capturing intrahousehold distribution (Arimond and others, 2010, 2011). Results suggest that food group indicators are meaningful proxies of individual diet variety and micronutrient deficiencies in rural, urban and peri-urban settings. Yet, high quality dietary data are difficult and require additional fieldwork and skilled enumerators. Alternatively, experience-based measures of food deprivation and coping strategies based on data collected at the individual level for both women and men may be considered.

      No indicator can be used as a unique stand-alone measure of food access; instead, a set of indicators should be used to capture complementary aspects. While this is true in each food security analysis, it becomes particularly relevant in identifying disparities between groups (such as female- and male- headed households). For example, gender-based differences may be small in terms of dietary energy consumption/acquisition, but may become more visible when looking at the quality and cost of the diet or the sustainability of the sources. A comprehensive approach is therefore highly recommended in the context of a gender analysis.

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