Multidimensional Food Insecurity Measurement

Working Paper


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University of Cape Town


It is well established that household food security is a complex phenomenon with numerous indicators and outcomes, the measurement of which is yet to be adequately captured by a single measure. We propose the adoption of the methodology of multidimensional poverty measurement in calculating an index of multidimensional food insecurity. This framework has gained increasing popularity, particularly with the introduction of the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). The assertion is that, like poverty, food insecurity is a multidimensional phenomenon, requiring the inclusion of multiple aspects of deprivation in its measurement. Nationally representative data from South Africa is used to construct a Multidimensional Food Insecurity Index (MFII), based on the methodology of the MPI. The MFII is used to develop a detailed profile of individual food insecurity in South Africa. Nationally, close to half of the population are considered multidimensionally food insecure, with the greatest contributors to food insecurity being dietary diversity and subjective food consumption adequacy. The Western Cape and Gauteng enjoy the lowest levels of multidimensional food insecurity, while Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal suffer the highest levels. How food security is measured can have an important impact on how policies and interventions are developed and implemented. As such, measurement methodologies can be very practically relevant to research.

Joana Ryan is a PhD student in the School of Economics and a Graduate Associate in SALDRU.

Murray Leibbrandt is the NRF-DST Research Chair in Poverty and Inequality Research and a Professor in the School of Economics at UCT. He is the Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Poverty and Inequality Initiative at UCT and the Director of SALDRU.

Joanna Ryan acknowledges generous doctoral support from the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, DST-NRF Research Chair in Poverty and Inequality Research and the Carnegie Corporation. This paper was produced with funding from the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security.

Murray Leibbrandt acknowledges the Research Chairs Initiative of the Department of Science and Technology and National Research Foundation for funding his work as the Research Chair in Poverty and Inequality.