Tools for Food Security and Nutrition Analysis

Household Economy Approach and Cost of the Diet

Baseline Assessments

At the heart of the HEA is a depiction of how people get by from year to year and the connections with other people and places that enable them to do so. This is called the baseline and is defined as a set of basic data on food, income and expenditure for each of (usually) four main wealth groups: very poor, poor, middle (sometimes split into lower and upper middle) and better-off, within a livelihood zone.

A baseline assessment has three components:

- livelihood zoning;
- a wealth breakdown and;
- an analysis of livelihood strategies for each of the identified wealth groups.

Taken together these data provide a basic description of how typical households living at different levels of wealth survive; how they obtain food, how they generate income, and how they organise their patterns of expenditure. Typically, baseline data are compiled for a defined 12-month period or ‘reference’ year. A description of each component is given below.

Livelihood zoning

A livelihood zone is an area within which people share basically the same patterns of access to food (that is, they grow the same crops, or keep the same types of livestock), and have the same access to markets. Zoning involves the preparation of maps, together with analyses of the options for obtaining food and income within each zone and the marketing networks that determine the patterns of exchange between zones. Taken together, the three factors of geography, production system, and the marketing system by and large determine the economic operations of households within a particular livelihood zone. They also determine vulnerability to particular hazards such as drought, insecurity, or market dislocation, since vulnerability is a function of the normal activities of households and of the activities they turn to in response to a hazard.

Wealth Breakdown

While geography tends to define a household’s options for obtaining food and income, the ability to exploit those options and to survive in a crisis is determined largely by wealth. In other words, what people have by way of land, capital and livestock, together with their educational status and access to political and social networks, determines the ways in which they will be able to get food and cash, or how they will respond to sudden or long-term change.

To capture these variations, HEA seeks to characterise typical households within each zone according to at least three (commonly four and sometimes more) wealth groups. In the field, wealth categories are defined through interviews with community key informants. ‘Poor’ and ‘better-off ’ are thus relative to local rather than external standards. Often, these standards are predictable along general livelihood lines: landholding size, labour availability and draught power define wealth in a poor agricultural economy; land quality and access to fishing equipment in agro-fishing communities; the size of herds in pastoral economies.

Analysis of Livelihood Strategies

Having grouped households according to where they live and their wealth, the next step is to examine patterns of food and cash income and patterns of expenditure over a defined reference period. This gives a baseline picture of exactly how households get the food they eat and the cash they need, and how they spend their money. There are many approaches to livelihood analysis which describe how people acquire food and cash. The difference with HEA is that it provides quantitative information; information is gathered on how much food or cash households gain from a particular source, and on how much they spend on certain items and basic services over the defined period.

As well as providing an acute perspective on household operations and constraints, quantification is needed to allow a new situation (positive or negative) to be judged in terms of its likely effect on livelihoods. This is the second part of the HEA framework called the Outcome Analysis.