Voices of the Hungry


The Voices of the Hungry Project

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This a project that aims 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 8 questions based on other experience-based scales previously developed, which measure food insecurity at the household level. The project supporting this initiative was given the name “Voices of the Hungry”, since FIES is based on the experiences of people affected by food insecurity and is reflective of the ways they (the Hungry) live through that phenomenon.


The first scales of this kind were developed in the 90’s to assess household food insecurity in the USA (Household Food Security Supplemental Module – HFSSM). The same tool has been also applied in Canada within national nutrition surveys.  Based on scientific evidence gathered in the US, where the HFSSM was also tested among Latin-American immigrants (1999-2000), and later in rural communities of Bolivia, Ecuador and Mexico (2001-2003), as well as on the lessons gathered at the national level in Brazil and in Colombia (2003-2005) a group of scientists at different universities in the US and in South America developed the Latin American and Caribbean Food Security Scale (ELCSA – Escala Latino Americana y Caribeña de Seguridad Alimentaria) launched in 2007. Thanks to its proven validity and reliability ELCSA has been applied for a variety of purposes in several countries in the Americas, such as Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico,  Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. In addition, studies took place in Albania, China, Kenya, and among immigrants from Arabic speaking countries in the US.

Food Insecurity Assessment at the Global Level

Indicators of diverse nature are used for the assessment of different components of the food insecurity construct. Some of them focus on determinants of this phenomenon (e.g. poverty), others on its consequences (e.g. stunting), or on the consumption of food. Since 1999 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has reported annually the “State of Food Insecurity in the World” using an indicator of “undernourishment”, which estimates the number of people not able to meet the minimum requirements on caloric intake. This indicator is used to evaluate the performance of each country towards the targets established at the World Food Summit of 1996 and Millennium Conference of the year 2000, which aim a reduction in half by 2015 respectively on the number and on the prevalence of undernourishment as compared to what they were in the early 90’s.
Given the high complexity of the construct of food insecurity, it is well recognized that its assessment cannot be accomplished through one indicator only. It is through the combination of different indicators that food insecurity can be estimated in a more comprehensive manner, which is essential for the development of any policies, programs and interventions in the fight against hunger. As an effort to address the evaluation of food insecurity in the world in a more comprehensive manner, FAO brought together a group of experts with the goal of developing a recommendation on an indicator suitable to be applied globally.

The Margaret A Gilliam Institute for Global Food Security and the Global Assessment of Food Insecurity

Given his experience in the use of experience-based food security tools in over 20 countries and in the development of the regional ELCSA, in the 2012 Professor Hugo Melgar-Quinonez, Margaret A. Gilliam Scholar in Food Security, was invited to be part of the experts group lead by FAO. In 2014 this group recommended the application of the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) through the World Gallup Poll in 150 countries.

Thanks the role played by the Professor Melgar-Quinonez in the development of FIES and to a strong collaboration developed through many years with FAO, the Margaret A. Gilliam Institute for Global Food Security became a major player in this global initiative. As part of the partnership established with FAO, two McGill graduate students (Meghan Miller and Elizabeth Graham) travelled to Rome in the summer of 2014 to do an internship at the FAO’s headquarters and to work directly with the officers leading the Voices of the Hungry project. Both are currently working on their research projects, which will lead to the very first graduate theses generated out of this collaboration. Both students continue playing a very important role in support of the Voices of the Hungry project, and together with Professor Melgar-Quinonez they are part of a Research Advisory Group. In the Fall of 2014 three other McGill graduate students started to explore this initiative as a venue for their own research projects. FAO aims to incorporate FIES in the World Gallup Poll for 5 years (i.e. 2014-2018), with the goal of positioning this indicator as one of the main global measures to assess food insecurity. It is to expect that FIES will be introduced in 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. 

On October 28 2014, at the 7th McGill Conference on Global Food Security, Professor Melgar-Quinonez announced the creation of the McGill Global Food security Data Lab, which is located in the MacDonald campus, and will be hosting, data from the Voices of the Hungry collected in 150 countries.  This novel global initiative will allow 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.

More information on FIES is available through a recent scientific publication by FAO leading officers in the Voices of the Hungry project and co-authored by Professor Melgar-Quinonez on the validity and reliability of food security measures: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nyas.12594/pdf

Additionally more can be learned on the Voices of the Hungry project at: http://www.fao.org/in-action/voices-of-the-hungry/en/


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