Using mobile phone data helps estimate community-level food insecurity: Findings from a multi-year panel study in Nepal


Household food insecurity remains a major policy challenge in low-income countries. Identifying accurate measures that are relatively easy to collect has long been an important priority for governments seeking to better understand and fund solutions for communities in remote settings. Conventional approaches based on surveys can be time-consuming and costly, while data derived from satellite imagery represent proxies focused on biological processes (such as rainfall and crop growth) lack granularity in terms of human behaviors. As a result, there has recently been interest in tapping into the large digital footprint offered by mobile phone usage. This paper explores empirical relationships between data relating to mobile phones (ownership and spending on service use), and food insecurity in rural Nepal. The work explores models for estimating community-level food insecurity through aggregated mobile phone variables in a proof-of-concept approach. In addition, sensitivity analyses were performed by considering the performance of the models under different settings. The results suggest that mobile phone variables on ownership and expenditure can be used to estimate food insecurity with reasonable accuracy. This suggests that such an approach can be used in and beyond Nepal as an option for collecting timely food insecurity information, either alone or in combination with conventional approaches.

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