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The geographic and temporal scale of institutional responses to food crises suggests three levels of food information or famine early warning system: a seasonal national food balance, baseline data on household food poverty and estimates of vulnerability to climatic and economic variations, and targeted interventions based on individual entitlements and food deprivation. Stimulating the demand for food information, beyond the need to forecast famines, is a crucial factor in the adoption of improved monitoring systems. Issues in the design of food information systems are illustrated by the experience in Kenya in 1984–85. The government of Kenya responded to the 1984 drought and ensuing food crisis to prevent widespread famine, largely through timely commercial imports of yellow maize. Although qualified by the nature of the drought and Kenya's economic development, this success story emphasises the need to improve food information systems.