Questions, Questions and More Questions

Published on 05 January 2009

Lisa Biederlack, from WFP’s Food Security Analysis division, was recently in some of the remotest areas of Ghana to coordinate a survey about the population's access to food. In this article Lisa explains exactly what that involved.

Life in the countryside starts early so, for the last three weeks, my working day has started before dawn. By 6am men and women have left home to start their farming work, fetch water, sell their produce in the market. In order to catch them in time, we adapt to their schedules. This means waking up at 4am.

This particular survey involves some 75 Ghanaian interviewers meeting 3,800 households in 321 communities. Reaching the people can involve a number of challenges. The most common one is the distance that often has to be travelled. Even the strongest land-cruiser cannot withstand the extremely rough roads at times. One team of interviewers had to abandon their car and continue on motorbikes. Another found itself trekking for miles under the blistering sun to reach the community.

When we do not find our interviewees at home, we meet them in their cocoa fields, the market stall in the neighbouring village, the washing area at the river. The interviewee might be a subsistence farmer with less than one hectare of maize but two wives and nine children at home; a regional cocoa trader who earns more than enough to support his immediate family of five, as well as his two brothers; a 45-year old widow who is taking care of six children, only one of whom can afford going to school; or a gold miner who earns less than USD 0.80 per day.

Once we track down the people we have been looking for we ask them to give us approximately one hour and thirty minutes to answer our many detailed questions. We ask about their livelihoods and the income they earn from them, the types of food they eat and how often, their sources of drinking water, their access to health facilities, loans, education. We enquire about how they cope in times when food may be difficult to produce or buy, the shocks and problems they may have experienced in the past and what initiatives they take to withstand similar shocks and problems in the future. 

The information they are willing to share with us, will help to understand who is food insecure today and who may be vulnerable to become so tomorrow. They will pinpoint the reasons why some people are and others are not food insecure. They will give us an idea of who may be particularly badly affected by, for example, a flood or rising food and fuel prices. 

The more we are in contact with the people and develop an understanding of their situation, the better the Government of Ghana and its development partners can decide on how best to intervene to help those who are most in need.