How do you measure hunger?

Published: 27 September 2016

How do you measure hunger? If anyone can tell you, it’s Hugo Melgar-Quiñonez, Margaret Gilliam Faculty Scholar in Food Security and Director of the McGill Institute for Global Food Security.

“Hunger and food insecurity are very complex phenomena affecting people and countries in different ways,” says Melgar-Quiñonez. “In order to estimate how many people are undernourished or food insecure, we needed diverse methods of quantifying hunger.”

In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations launched Voices of the Hungry, a project that aimed to assess the experiences of individuals when facing different conditions associated with food insecurity. It is based on an instrument called the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES). FIES is a short questionnaire of eight questions based on other experience-based scales previously developed, which measure food insecurity at the household level. Although similar systems have been in use since the ’90s, they have not been applied at a global scale. Because of his experience in the use of experience-based food security tools in over 20 countries and in the development of a regional system used in Central and South America and the Caribbean, Melgar-Quiñonez was invited to be part of the experts group led by the FAO. Thanks to this role and to a strong collaboration developed through many years with FAO, the McGill Institute for Global Food Security became a major player in this global initiative. It is expected that FIES will be introduced into food security information systems in all countries within the United Nations, and will be part of all sorts of national surveys on poverty, health and nutrition, demographics and health, etc. FIES has been adopted as one of the tools to monitor and evaluate the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

Launched in 2014, the McGill Global Food Security Data Lab, located on the Macdonald campus, hosts data from the Voices of the Hungry collected in 150 countries. This novel global initiative allows McGill researchers (both faculty members and graduate students) to tackle a wide range of research questions on food insecurity, contributing to a better understanding of a phenomenon that still affects hundreds of millions, if not billions, of individuals around the world. It has supported and continues to support several projects examining food insecurity at the global level.

Just this month, a new $46 million 5-year collaboration between the Institute for Global Food Security, CARE International, CUSO International, the Government of Ethiopia, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique and Global Affairs Canada (major funder), was announced. The Growing Nutrition for Mothers and Children (GROW) project in Ethiopia and the Southern African Nutrition Initiative (SANI) project in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique aims to improve the nutritional status of women of reproductive age (15-49) and boys and girls under five through improvement of nutrition practices and services, improvement of nutrition-sensitive practices, and strengthening of governance of gender-sensitive nutrition programs and approaches.

Originally published in Focus on Macdonald Alumni Newsletter, August 2016


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