Food aid decision-making tool to strengthen context-specific humanitarian responses

21 May 2012

Lilongwe-Legume-TraderThe Market Information and Food Insecurity Response Analysis (MIFIRA) decision-making tool developed by Cornell University researchers aims to help international relief organizations cater their food aid response to specific local and regional economic and social contexts. The tool builds on lessons learnt during the Indian Ocean tsunami as relief agencies sought more efficient local alternatives to international food aid.

Historically, agencies have typically sent food across the ocean in response to crises. But according to researchers at Cornell's Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami made policymakers rethink disaster relief strategies.

Despite the enormous loss of human life caused by the tsunami, food production and marketing systems beyond coastal areas remained largely intact, so the cash that flooded in from worldwide donors was able to be applied immediately and effectively. As a result, interest in alternatives to food aid grew considerably, and the resulting increase in choices meant that agencies needed better tools to make good choices. Thus, the Market Information and Food Insecurity Response Analysis (MIFIRA) tool was developed by a team led by Christopher Barrett, the Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management, with support from CARE and U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Food for Peace.

First proposed in 2009 in the journal Food Security, it has been used in Bangladesh, Malawi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Afghanistan, by such agencies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and USAID.

MIFIRA takes into account not only the impact of food security in affected communities, but also the way food aid responses could impact them further.

For example, giving money to a community instead of wheat could mean more people will seek to purchase rice. Could local vendors support this new demand? Would it result in increased prices, creating a whole new group of food-insecure people?

The MIFIRA process starts by asking one main question: Are local markets functioning well? If the answer is yes, then cash transfers should be considered. A series of other questions follow, to further hone assistance strategy and assess the potential for negative impacts.

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