Research Article: Coping strategies related to food insecurity at the household level in Bangladesh

Date Published: April 14, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Fahmida Dil Farzana, Ahmed Shafiqur Rahman, Sabiha Sultana, Mohammad Jyoti Raihan, Md Ahshanul Haque, Jillian L. Waid, Nuzhat Choudhury, Tahmeed Ahmed, Bhavani Shankar.


In connection to food insecurity, adaptation of new techniques or alteration of regular behavior is executed that translates to coping strategies. This paper has used data from food security and nutrition surveillance project (FSNSP), which collects information from a nationally representative sample in Bangladesh on coping behaviors associated with household food insecurity. To complement the current understanding of different coping strategies implemented by the Bangladeshi households, the objective of this paper has been set to examine the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the food insecure households which define their propensity towards adaptation of different types of coping strategies.

FSNSP follows a repeated cross-sectional survey design. Information of 23,374 food insecure households available from February 2011 to November 2013 was selected for the analyses. Coping strategies were categorized as financial, food compromised and both. Multinomial logistic regression was employed to draw inference.

Majority of the households were significantly more inclined to adopt both multiple financial and food compromisation coping strategies. Post-aman season, educational status of the household head and household women, occupation of the household’s main earner, household income, food insecurity status, asset, size and possession of agricultural land were found to be independently and significantly associated with adaptation of both financial and food compromisation coping strategies relative to only financial coping strategies. The relative risk ratio of adopting food compromisation coping relative to financial coping strategies when compared to mildly food insecure households, was 4.54 times higher for households with moderate food insecurity but 0.3 times lower when the households were severely food insecure. Whereas, households were 8.04 times and 4.98 times more likely to adopt both food compromisation and financial relative to only financial coping strategies if moderately and severely food insecure respectively when compared to being mildly food insecure.

Households suffering from moderate and severe food insecurity, are more likely to adopt both financial and food compromisation coping strategies.

Partial Text

Food security is a complex sustainable development issue linked to health and nutrition, has been best defined by the World Food Summit as having access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food [1]. Food insecurity, the converse situation can be described as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways” [2]. Food insecurity indeed is a major public health problem for both developing and developed nations [3]. Historically, household resilience to food insecurity has been characterized by a number of fairly regular behavioral responses which translates to coping strategies [4] or techniques that households generally apply to cope with crises moments when the resources are limited or absent [5].Generally, households adopt coping strategies in the early stages of food insecurity [6], which however vary based on cultural and geographical differences [5].

FSNSP covers three major seasons in Bangladesh: monsoon (May-August) and the two post rice harvest periods namely post-aman(January-April) and post-aus (September-December).FSNSP collects information on food insecurity at the household level from 13 strata; six strata correspond to the six surveillance zones(coastal belt, eastern hills, haor region, padma chars, northern chars and the northwest region), while the remaining seven strata(Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Barisal, Khulna, Sylhet and Rangpur), which contain all the upazila not included in a surveillance zone, correspond to the seven administrative divisions of Bangladesh. From each stratum, a set number of upazila were selected with replacement. For each of the six surveillance zones, twelve upazila were selected in each round, while 22 upazila were selected from the other areas of the country. The number of upazila from non-surveillance zone strata varied depending on the number of upazila in the zone, ranging from one to eight.1 From each of the surveillance zones, upazila were selected by rotation into the sampling frame in order to reduce random variation in estimates between rounds, as has been recommended for surveillance systems by the UN (United Nations), and is commonly done in labour participation surveillance [23].

Descriptive statistics derived from the analysis, are tabulated in Table 1.Our result dictates that around four-fifth of all food insecure households were severely food insecure, mostly belonged to rural areas, majority of the families were headed by male members. As for the household heads, around half had no formal education and major occupation was day labor.

Coping strategies pertaining to compromising quality and quantity of food consumption were observed to be the first step taken in order to mitigate the adverse effect of food shortage at the household level [18].More exorbitant strategies involving financial compromisation such as selling or mortgaging assets were adopted when food insecurity condition worsens. Literature on the topic is relatively scarce and lack inference based on quantitative analysis. Nonetheless, a study conducted on Bangladeshi marginal farmers affected by idiosyncratic shocks showed compromising the frequency and amount of food to be the most common coping strategy implemented by the households followed by consumption of wild uncultivated food and taking loans [20]. The study also found that as assisted coping strategy, over two-third of the population opted for food relief provided through different safety net programs by the government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or other organizations. Another study on the economically vulnerable haor zone of Bangladesh showed that nearly 80% of the households primarily preferred borrowing money to circumvent poverty and food insecurity, while half of the population also implemented food compromisation strategies [48]. This study result, in concordance with our finding, also showed that the coping strategies adopted by the vulnerable households were not mutually exclusive, rather a mixed approach comprising strategies of multiple financial and food compromisation domain were adopted. Prior work on household food insecurity suggested that families access an array of informal assistance programs and that they also use financial coping mechanisms i.e. selling assets; these informal assistances are the social safety-net programs can help alleviate food insecurity [19]. However, it is crucial to highlight that in Bangladesh, safety net programs run by government aim to mitigate food insecurity, involves transfer of food mostly [49]. The top few social safety net programs in Bangladesh are the Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) [50,51] with more than 480,000 recipient households [52], the Food for Work (FFW) [52,53] serving more than 75,000,000 hours of work and the Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) [54], which are all food oriented. Therefore, considering the inclination of the moderate and severe food insecure households towards adaptation of mixed food and financial compromisation strategies, it should be highly advisable that the government and the NGOs modify their existing food insecurity alleviation oriented safety net programs and incorporate financial modalities such as cash/asset transfer or small loans alongside with food transfer. Comparison of food and cash transfer programs in Bangladesh has shown increased caloric intakes of school age children and elderlies if they are benefited by cash transfer programs [55], however, irregularity in receiving cash payments in terms of timeliness has challenged its efficacy [56].

The study did not look upon the causes behind the households being food insecure; i.e. the situation that compelled them to apply different coping strategy and whether they got back to a normal situation thereafter. Data was derived through cross sectional surveillance from which, causal relationships cannot be determined. A possibility of recall bias remains, as information was gathered mostly through maternal response. Nevertheless, a large sample size added to the strength of the study.

This study is the first of its kind to examine the relationship between the degrees of severity of household food insecurity and the types of coping strategies adopted by Bangladeshi households. The study showed that, majority of the households were significantly more inclined to adopt both financial and food compromisation coping strategies. Moreover, severe and moderately food insecure households were more likely to adopt both food compromisation and financial coping strategies when compared to being mildly food insecure. Adopting coping strategies decrease the vulnerability of the poor, exacerbating the scope for breaking the cycle of poverty. Support for further analysis and deeper understanding of people’s livelihood and coping mechanisms in order to strengthen their livelihood and enhance the effectiveness of assistance programs is advisable. The evidence gathered and subsequently shown in this paper along with the recommendation is expected to be vital for the policymakers and NGO personnel to formulate and instrumentalize in new interventions in the existing safety net programs.