caused the failure of formal and informal safety nets due to the ongoing lack of governance in
to the activities of the local militant group Al Shabab. The restriction of trade caused very
high local food prices, and elevated international food prices further reduced the ability of
institutions to import sufficient reserves. Together, these elements caused a famine in Somalia
in 2011-12 (FEWS NET, 2012a).
Knowledge of the likelihood that there will be a food security problem is a key way that
these crises can be averted. Research conducted during and after famines in Africa in the
1970s and 1980s (von Braun et al ., 1998; Watts, 1983) demonstrated that early and focused
intervention could break the link between climate extremes and famine (Wisner et al ., 2004).
This work and others produced after it focused on the social and political context in which
environmental extremes, market dysfunctions and lack of governance can cause large-scale
food security crises (Corbett, 1988; Cutler, 1984; De Waal, 1988; Khan, 1994; Lele, 1994;
Moseley and Logan, 2001).
The links between causes of short-term decline in food production, lack of functioning
markets and the consequences for household and community food security led to the devel-
opment of early warning systems in the late 1980s and 1990s (Mellor and Gavian, 1987;
Buchanan-Smith, 2000; Brown, 2008). Together with the advent of large-scale satellite
remote sensing and improved computer and communication systems, information about
food, food availability and food access has increased dramatically in the past two decades
(Davies et al ., 1991; Buchanan-Smith, 1994; Hutchinson, 1998). Monitoring and analysis of
impending food security problems is a key sector where research on the linkages between
weather-related agriculture impacts and food price dynamics can be transformative. Waiting
until after a food security crisis has unfolded is not an option if institutions would like to
protect social assets.
Over the past three decades, early warning systems have refined their food security indica-
tors to better detect changes in welfare, improved the accuracy of the data they use and
increased the timeliness of warnings (Scheel, 2012; Verdin et al ., 2005). Early warning systems
food production, in better understanding supply response to demand and for designing
effective policy interventions. Clear connection between the observations and the likely
impact of observed shocks on food security situation can be articulated to policy makers by
an early warning system, and, if done properly, motivate an appropriate response in local,
national and international institutions. The next section, therefore, will focus on describing
USAID's early warning system, the data it uses and how it conducts analysis as both a source
of information and a target for improved information systems.
USAID's Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET)
viding early warnings of food security crises around the world. FEWS NET's objective is to
and well-funded response to crises when they occur (FEWS NET, 2012b). Because of its role
in humanitarian monitoring for the US government, one of the world's largest donors of food