Anticipating Shocks, Evaluating Resilience in Developing Countries

An example of some of the results from the food security crisis classification tool produced by FEWS NET (

An example of some of the results from the food security crisis classification tool produced by FEWS NET (

By Rachel Zamzow

DES MOINES, Iowa — When it comes to food security in developing countries, being poor doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t resilient.

Poor households are driven to diversify livelihoods, purchasing livestock in addition to growing crops, which makes them more resilient to climate shocks, said Chris Hillbruner, decision support advisor for the U.S. Agency for International Development project Famine Early Warning Systems Network. On the other hand, wealthy households tend to invest only in one livelihood, such as growing maize.

In a panel discussion Thursday at the 2013 World Food Prize, experts from the network presented data on predicting food security crises through the analysis of factors including weather, agriculture production, prices and trade. The outputs of these analyses can inform policy makers in their decisions about food security, the panelists said.

“We have the opportunity to intervene here,” said Erin Martin, communications advisor for the network, also known as FEWS NET.

Network experts are working to develop tools to help identify future effects of climate change and how they may translate to food security crises in individual countries, said Gideon Galu, a FEWS NET regional scientist for the Greater Horn of Africa.

“We need to know right now where the climate is changing and how specifically it will affect sub-national areas in order to inform policy actions,” Galu said.

The network also incorporates the resilience of households to food insecurity and the effects of climate change in its forecasting methods.

“There is a tendency to talk about households as resilient or not resilient,” Hillbruner said. Instead, a more nuanced look is necessary. The context of a specific shock, such as crop failure, should be considered, he said.

FEWS NET can predict the social effects of climate change as well. In Central America, the network is used to anticipate job losses due to the spread of coffee rust and other effects of climate change, said Lorena Aguilar, a FEWS NET regional technical manager for Guatemala.

Classifying the severity of food insecurity in a given country is another challenge the network is trying to tackle. FEWS NET has developed an evidence-based tool that provides a “common language for describing and classifying acute food insecurity,” Hillbruner said. This tool calculates ratings of individual food security crises that can be used by decision-making agencies such as the United Nations.

Anticipating the effects of climate change on food security in a specific country can enlist necessary aid efforts in advance, the panelists said. But worldwide food security is the ultimate concern of FEWS NET.

“There are no borders between countries when it comes to climate change or shocks,” Aguilar said.

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