Field Exchange Aug 2001: The Coping Strategies Index - monitoring food security status in emergencies

Research in Progress
The effective management of emergency food aid programmes requires information not only about needs, but also about impact. To date, measuring impact in emergencies is mostly limited to infrequent nutritional surveys, or expensive ex-post evaluations. Information on monitoring impact of general food distributions during an actual emergency operation is virtually non-existent, as are the tools to provide such information. WFP and CARE International are collaborating in Kenya to adapt a method of measuring food security outcomes under research circumstances into a time- and cost-effective monitoring tool that addresses the operational information requirements of food aid agencies during emergencies.

The Tools. Already briefly described in Field Exchange (Issue 8, November 1999), the Coping Strategy Index (CSI) enumerates both the frequency and severity of coping strategies of households faced with short-term insufficiency of food. The CSI goes beyond commonly used caloric indicators to incorporate elements of future vulnerability, and the deliberate decisions of households faced with food insufficiency. In brief, the CSI enumerates all consumption-related coping strategies commonly used by a population. Four general categories of coping are measured, with individual strategies defined specifically according to location and culture:

1. Dietary change (e.g. eating less preferred but less expensive food etc.);

2. Increasing short-term food access (borrowing, gifts, wild foods, consuming seed stock etc.);

3. Decreasing numbers of people to feed (short-term migration etc.);

4. Rationing strategies (mothers prioritising children/men, limiting portion size, skipping meals, skipping eating for whole days etc.).

The information is weighted according to the perceived severity of each behaviour, as indicated by community members in focus groups. The weighted scores are combined into an index that reflects current and perceived future food security status. Monitoring fluctuations in the index can give a rapid indication of whether food security is improving or deteriorating. When used in combination with context monitoring (early warning) indicators, and food aid end-use monitoring tools, the CSI provides an accurate indication of the way in which household food security is responding to food aid interventions. An example of the CSI (used in an urban setting) is shown in Box 1.

The Kenya Pilot Study. Earlier studies have showed that, under research settings, the CSI accurately reflects current food security status1 and is also a good predictor of future food security status.2 The pilot study in Kenya is intended to develop the concept into a low-cost monitoring tool to track the impact of food aid at the household level during emergency programme operations: to test the CSI against other measures of food security; to test whether changes in coping behaviours correspond to changes in the environment that affect food security (early warning indicators); and to test whether the index responds to the intervention of food aid. The pilot study is being conducted in two different livelihood zones-a pastoral area (Garissa district) and a marginal rain-fed agricultural area (Kitui district). Random samples are being selected from the same clusters in each district over three rounds, at different points during an emergency operation. Complementary qualitative information is being gathered using Participatory Learning Appraisal techniques.

The Intended Outcome. Ultimately, the objective is to develop a rapid, user-friendly tool that generates accurate information and is relatively quick and easy to analyse. A manual will also be developed for training field staff in the use of the tool. Although the intent is to develop a relatively standard approach, the tool will require some local adaptation, and guidelines for this adaptation will also be developed. The pilot test runs through August, 2001.

The tool itself should be finalised during 2001.

Box 1. An (Urban) Example of the CSI Tool
Because food is not enough, or money to buy food is not enough, in the past month, how often have you had to: (REPEAT FOR EACH QUESTION)
Every day (7)
3-6 x / wk (4.5)
1-2 x / wk (1.5)
<1 x / wk (0.5)
Never (0)
1. Rely on less preferred and less expensive foods?
2. Borrow food, or borrow money to buy food?
3. Purchase food on credit?
4. Rely on help from relative or friend outside household
5. Limit portions at mealtimes?
6. Ration the little money you have to household members to buy street foods?
7. Limit your own intake to ensure child gets enough?
8. Reduce number of meals eaten in a day?
9. Skip whole days without eating.
Total Index Score

For further information contact:

Dan Maxwell, Regional Food Security/HLS Advisor, CARE East Africa Regional Management Unit, P.O. Box 43864, Nairobi, Kenya. Tel: (254)2-713491/717367/713672 Fax: (254)2-718524 E-mail:


1 Daniel Maxwell, Clement Ahiadeke, Carol Levin, Margaret Armar-Klemesu, Sawudatu Zakariah, and Grace Mary Lamptey (1999). "Alternative Food Security Indicators: Revisiting the Frequency and Severity of 'Coping Strategies.'" Food Policy. Vol. 24 (4), pp. 411-429.

2 Luc Christiaensen and Richard Boisvert (2000). "On Measuring Household Food Vulnerability: Case Evidence from Northern Mali." Working Paper Department of Agricultural, Resource, and Managerial Economics, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University.