Frequently Asked Questions


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HEA was originally developed in the 1990s for food security assessment and famine early warning purposes. The methodology largely evolved from the ambition to improve food security analysis in Ethiopia in the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1994, the first on-the-ground HEA-based food security information system was established in South Sudan through WFP and linked to decision making systems. The Story of HEA details how and why HEA was developed.

HEA is not expensive given its long-term return on investment.
HEA requires investment upfront to complete the baseline. Once an HEA baseline is completed, it can be used over and over again for around five to 10 years.
OA requires funding, however its use of secondary data in-country (e.g. from existing crop or price monitoring systems) reduces costs related to data collection. Once an HEA analysis is complete, it can be used for multiple purposes (e.g. programme design, early warning, calculating cash transfer values, etc.), demonstrating great value-for-money.
A rapid version can be carried out when relevant (e.g. post-shock). The framework remains the same as a standard HEA; what differs is that the total quantity of information that is collected is less. Therefore, a rapid baseline and outcome analysis together require about two weeks to complete.

ActivityTime requiredApproximate budget required
Standard HEA Baseline4-5 weeks$20-40,000
Standard Outcome Analysis1-3 weeks$5-20,000
Rapid HEA (Baseline and Outcome Analysis)4 weeks$15-30,000
Time and budget can greatly vary depending on the amount of data that needs to be collected and in-country costs, such as per diem and car rentals.

With the Food Economy Group (FEG), Save the Children is developing a certification scheme that outlines training and practical requirements in order to achieve varying levels of certification (from assessment participant to leader to trainer). Learn more about training requirements for different components of HEA here.

Save the Children staff can benefit from our common approach learning programme that is designed to establish three different levels of HEA expertise: advocates, users of HEA data, and practitioners. There is also a series of online trainings that provide a good base for learning about HEA. Please contact Save the Children staff using the HEA email address for details. 
Practice and field-based experience are key to solidify HEA expertise.

HEA can be used in a variety of contexts, including rural and urban settings; in emergency and development contexts; and in refugee and displaced settings. Some elements of the framework may need to be adapted for different contexts, but this does not necessarily make the process or analysis more difficult. Nonetheless, an experienced HEA analyst should always be consulted when adapting the framework for an individual context.

HEA was originally developed as a tool for early warning of acute food insecurity but is now used increasingly in wider programme design, including for social protection and livelihoods projects and policy. Refer to the Uses of HEA section of this site for details. It can be used for:

  • Food security early warning analysis and planning for anticipatory actions and humanitarian response: because HEA converts a forecasted shock into impact at household level, it can not only act as a trigger for action, but can also inform appropriate and timely responses.

  • Geographic and household targeting: HEA tells us which geographic areas and types of households are, or will likely be, most in need of support to meet their basic needs.

  • Cash and voucher assistance and social protection systems: HEA can inform the size and

    duration of transfers, and provide information for geographic and household targeting.

  • Development and resilience building actions including resilience measurement, and climate

    change analyses: HEA can model different programmatic interventions to identify appropriate actions that will have meaningful impact on households’ livelihoods and abilities to cope with local shocks, producing a “resilience score”. It can also assess how livelihoods have changed over a historical period, identifying links to climate change.

  • Monitoring and evaluation: HEA’s detailed income, food, and expenditure data provides an excellent basis for measuring the effectiveness of a project aiming to build household assets, or increase income and/or expenditure in a particular area such as health or education.

HEA incorporates two standard thresholds that represent basic food needs (the survival threshold) and livelihoods protection (the livelihoods protection threshold).

• The survival threshold represents total income required to cover 100% of minimum food energy needs (2100 kcal per person per day), the costs associated with food preparation and consumption (e.g. cooking fuel), and any expenditure on water for human consumption. The livelihoods protection threshold represents the total income required to sustain local livelihoods. This includes the survival threshold plus expenditure to maintain access to basic services (e.g. school and medical fees), and to sustain livelihoods in the medium to long term (e.g. purchase of seeds).

The survival threshold is calculated using the cheapest staple foods in the analysed livelihood zone. The livelihoods protection threshold is calculated based on households’ expenditure in the baseline year. This is different from a Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB) which is calculated based on sector standards (I.e desired expenditure and not typical expenditure). For this reason, an MEB is usually higher or more comprehensive than standard HEA thresholds.

HEA qualifies a typical household’s total income (food and cash) to compare against the thresholds. If total income is below either threshold, it indicates that a household cannot protect their livelihoods and/or meet their basic food needs on their own.

While the survival and livelihoods protection thresholds are commonly used in HEA, any threshold or basket can be used alongside HEA income data, in order to calculate an affordability gap. This includes CotD diets or an MEB.

Yes, HEA can be gender sensitive, and when accompanied with additional analyses, it can support gender transformative programming.
HEA’s unit of analysis is the household. Standard HEA analyses therefore do not consider inter- household dynamics or provide specific details on women, men, boys and girls, or persons with disabilities.

However, it is now standard practice to assess the differences between female and male headed households’ abilities to meet their food and income needs and face shocks. This information can be useful for identifying programmatic interventions that could more effectively support female headed households’ main economic activities. It is also possible to capture information on different household members’ contributions to household income and food production. This can provide great insight into women’s, men’s, boys’ and girls’ workloads and societal expectations, and guide programmatic interventions.

OA calculates the number of people requiring assistance to fill income and food gaps based on population data used in the analysis. These numbers can be used to estimate the number of children in need, based on a typical household size as determined in the baseline.

HEA follows a rapid appraisal method, which means that it follows an open-ended and semi- structured approach. HEA data collection and analysis are continuous processes, undertaken throughout the fieldwork. It has built-in cross-checks to assess the accuracy or reliability of the data, and offers the opportunity to regularly clarify, discuss and triangulate the data. The investigator can check items of reported information against others (reported access to food against minimum food needs; reported income against expenditure) and is trained to challenge respondents when parts of the account contradict each other, until a logical and internally consistent picture is constructed of how people survive through the year.

Representativeness: HEA uses purposive sampling of areas considered to be relatively homogeneous in terms of livelihoods. In HEA, as in most sample surveys, food security data are reported, not counted or measured, and so are open to a degree of subjective judgement. With appropriate selection of informants and proper cross-checking, HEA’s semi-structured surveys generates rigorous quantitative as well as numerical data.

A baseline is typically valid for five to 10 years, or until any major event happens to significantly change livelihoods in the targeted zone. Therefore, a baseline usually needs to be redone around every five to 10 years.

OA is usually completed for every season or consumption year, in order to know how families will likely fare in the coming months or year. However, an OA can be completed at any time: whenever a change is predicted or has happened, an OA can be used to assess the impact of the change on families’ access to food and/or income.

HEA has been used in more than 80 countries around the globe. Although it has mostly been used in Africa, it is increasingly being used in Asia, the Middle East and Latin American.

Most HEA reports are available on this website or on the HEA Sahel website. Currently no central depository exists for HEA data sets, however most data can be accessed by contacting FEG or Save the Children.

HEA is used by some NGOs such as Save the Children, as well as governments. Many country governments (for example, Malawi, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal….) regularly use HEA to inform their humanitarian response plans, social protection systems, or poverty reduction strategies.

HEA’s detailed data on income per wealth group can be used in CotD analyses, in order to calculate the affordability of different diets.

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