HFIAS vis-à-vis FIES

Rationale for using the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) for program monitoring instead of the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), which forms part of the indicator framework for tracking the Sustainable Development Goals (footnote 1).


Author: Marijke de Graaf

Based on two decades of accumulated experience with HFIAS and other experience-based metrics of food security, FAO’s Voices of the Hungry project developed a new global standard for estimating the prevalence of food insecurity through use of a tool called FIES. 

This tool helps countries to collect and disseminate relevant information for evidence-based decisions to improve food security. The FIES measures food access at the individual or household level applying a set of 8 questions (footnote 2), inspired by the HFIAS questionnaire as shown below.

Fies set of questionsFigure 1: FIES set of questions

The answers are standardized as well, allowing the following 4 options: 1) No, 2) Yes, 3) Don’t know and 4) Refused.

The FIES is meant for large population surveys at national level. It provides comparable estimates of food insecurity prevalence rates across countries and cultures as well as actionable information that policy makers can use to identify vulnerable population groups and guide policy interventions at national level.
The full potential of the FIES to generate statistics that can inform policy is realized when the tool is applied in large national population surveys that allow more detailed analyses of the food insecurity situation by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location, or other policy-relevant characteristics. This is already the case for a number of countries. Given these characteristics the FIES has been selected as an indicator for SDGoal 2, as shown below.

SDG 2Figure 2: SDG2 (footnote 3)

For the FIES a recall period of one year is used, therefore it is not possible to take into account seasonal differences. The frequency of the given experiences of food insecurity is not taken into account, therefore smaller changes in experiences cannot be captured adequately. An additional challenge for the use of the FIES is the lack of a clear cut mechanism for categorizing individuals or households as food secure, mildly, moderately or severely food insecure. Given these characteristics the FIES is not suitable for sub-national program level monitoring, for which the HFIAS is a good alternative. With the HFIAS households can be classified into the following 4 categories: 1) food secure, 2) mildly food insecure, 3) moderate food insecure and 4) severe food insecure. This relates directly to the SDG 2.1.2 indicator and therefore HFIAS can be considered as a ‘SDG proof indicator’.  

The expected broader and more frequent use of the FIES within the SDG framework will provide an enabling environment for the promotion of experienced-based food security indicators, among which the HFIAS, and for establishing relevant expertise as well as benchmarks at national level. The Dutch Food and Nutrition Community as well as Development Sector should promote the use of standardized monitoring tools and indicators, among which the HFIAS. 

1. Marijke de Graaf, ICCO Cooperation Food and Nutrition Security expert
2. Source: http://www.fao.org/in-action/voices-of-the-hungry/fies/en/
3. Source: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/11803Official-List-of-Proposed-SDG-Indicators.pdf

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