The importance of timing in a Food Security Survey

In ICCO we use the HFIAS tool (Household Food Insecurity Access Scale) to measure food security. In this blog I will demonstrate how important it is to carefully think about the timing for your HFIAS survey, and I will develop that point by using data from another tool, the MAHFP.

The importance of timing in a Food Security Survey

In this blog I described the usefulness of a second tool in measuring food security: the Months of Adequate Household Food Provisioning ( MAHFP). The MAHFP tool investigates the occurrence of food insecurity throughout the year, where the HFIAS tool investigates the severity of food insecurity over the preceding month.

Lean season

Many countries in which ICCO works have an annual cycle of one or more dry and rainy seasons. It is usually around the time of the rainy season that farmers will plant their crops, and it is also around this time that they are often faced with food shortages. This is termed the lean season: old stocks are depleted and the new harvest is still some time away. The MAHFP data are able to capture this annual cycle by asking for each month whether people have enough food. Looking at the figure below, the orange vertical bars indicate the number of people that indicate to face food shortages per month (data from 2017 collected in Senegal). A clear peak can be observed around August, pointing to a high occurrence of food insecurity. This peak coincides with the rainy season so the rainy season and the lean season are (understandably) related. We find this for many other countries as well.

Conspicuous results

Next to the MAHFP tool we additionally applied the HFIAS tool: once in July (the lean season) for a baseline survey and once in November (outside of the lean season, with some crops already being harvested) for a small pilot study. The change in the results are conspicuous. In terms of the occurrence of food insecurity we found that in the lean season 87% of the respondents indicated to face food shortages whereas outside of the lean season this drops to 56%. And in terms of the severity of food insecurity we see that the highest HFIAS score encountered with households in the lean season is 24 (out of a maximum of 27) whereas outside the lean season this drops to 14. 


Based on these data we can conclude that in terms of both the occurrence and severity of food insecurity there is a strong effect of timing in doing a food security survey. So this leads to the following recommendations for doing food security surveys:

  1. Time your HFIAS survey to the lean season to prevent an overestimation of food security. 
  2. If you plan for a baseline and endline survey, then plan to do them in the same (lean) season. Otherwise you will be faced with an erroneous overestimation of your impact, or even a negative impact.
  3. To gain good insight in the annual fluctuation of food security, it will always be a good idea to collect MAHFP data together with HFIAS data.

Marco Dekker, ICCO MEL coordinator STARS program

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