The Food Economy Approach: a framework for understanding rural livelihoods

by Tanya BoudreauMay 1998

This paper describes Save the Children Fund-UK’s Food Economy Approach to analysing household food security, adopted by the organisation in the early 1990s. The paper details the way in which the access of individual households to food, both in ‘normal’ and ‘bad’ years, is identified and quantified. The paper examines the conceptual background to the model, asking “what is the food economy approach?”, “what is it used for?”, “how does it work?”and “who does what?”. It goes on to detail the development of the ‘baseline picture’, – how different families in a particular food economy area normally obtain food and non-food income. Information gathering, quantification and calculation methodologies are discussed with the aid of pie-charts and tables. Three case studies examine the application of the approach in southern Sudan, northern Kenya and Rwanda.

The paper highlights some of the difficulties that SCF-UK have faced in implementing the approach for example the difficulty in defining a ‘normal’ year; the reliability and quality of data sources; and the need for intellectual, highly trained and motivated staff.

This paper provides a starting point for further discussion and debate about the Food Economy Approach. It does so by providing a clear description of the workings of the model and shows, through case studies, how the model has been used to address some of the fundamental food security problems faced by all food security-related agencies. Only on the basis of an initial understanding of the approach can agencies effectively engage in a productive debate about the efficacy and appropriateness of the approach in addressing these information and analysis issues.