Measuring food insecurity is a costly and complicated exercise. In highly food insecure countries operational agencies need regular measurements for monitoring changes and for assessing the impact of food aid interventions. Often these interventions take place in emergency conditions. Time is limited, and field conditions do not permit lengthy and intensive data collection or analysis processes. Tools are needed that are quick and easy to administer, straight-forward to analyze, and rapid enough to provide real-time information to program managers.
The Coping Strategies Index (CSI) is one such tool. It was developed in Uganda, Ghana, and Kenya but has now been used for early warning and food security monitoring and assessment in at least nine other African countries and several in the Middle East and Asia.
The CSI measures behavior: the things that people do when they cannot access enough food. There are a number of fairly regular behavioral responses to food insecurity—or coping strategies—that people use to manage household food shortage. These coping strategies are easy to observe. It is quicker, simpler, and cheaper to collect information on coping strategies than on actual household food consumption levels. Hence, the CSI is an appropriate tool for emergency situations when other methods are not practical or timely.
The CSI can be used as a measure of the impact of food aid programs, as an early warning indicator of impending food crisis, and as a tool for assessing both food aid needs and whether food aid has been targeted to the most food insecure households. During food aid needs assessments the tool serves to identify areas and population groups where the needs are greatest. It can also shed light on the causes of high malnutrition rates, which are often very difficult to identify. Finally, if coping strategies are tracked over a long period, CSI is useful for monitoring long-term trends in food insecurity.