#dataforfood: Join us for the first mVAM Webinar!


Join us on Monday for the first of our webinar series! We’ll be hosting a discussion with experts in the fields of mobile data collection, gender, and data analysis:

Addressing Gender-related Challenges in Remote Mobile Data Collection

12 December 2016
9am EST/2pm Dakar/3pm Rome/5pm Nairobi 


The discussion will explore some key issues that arise in remote mobile data collection, such as:

  1. Women’s Participation: How can we engage more women when conducting surveys via mobile phone? How can qualitative research help improve female participation rates?
  1. Analyzing Data for Zero Hunger: How do low female participation rates bias our data and thus our ability to design effective, evidence-based programmes? Given the barriers to women’s participation, what can we do right now to analyze our data in a way that better represents women’s experiences? Are we even asking the right questions?
  1. Mobile’s Potential: What are the untapped possibilities for using remote mobile data collection to collect information on both men’s and women’s experiences (e.g. protection issues like anonymous reporting of gender-based violence)? What are the limitations?


  • Joyce Luma, Country Director, WFP South Sudan (former head of WFP Trends and Analysis Service): Gender, mobile phone surveys, and data analysis for Zero Hunger
  • Sangita Vyas, Managing Director, r.i.c.e. (Research Institute for Compassionate Economics): Methodologies for capturing women’s experiences in mobile phone surveys in India
  • Micah Boyer, University of South Florida: Women, markets, and mobile phones in the Sahel
  • Kusum Hachhethu, WFP mVAM Team and Nutritionist, Qualitative research for using mVAM to reach rural Kenyan women


To join the webinar, connect via this link:



Are you on Twitter? Participate in the discussion on Monday with the hashtag #dataforfood


Got Maize? Using Free Basics to reach millions in Malawi

WFP/Gregory Barrow

We have said it before: open data is not really useful unless it’s also accessible to everyone. WFP maintains an extensive food price database that is accessed by a lot of people, but most of our visitors happen to be donors or agencies in North America and Europe. We feel that in order to achieve Zero Hunger, information needs to be accessible for people living in the most vulnerable geographies.

free-basics-app-exampleWe’ve already experimented with ways to share food price information with vulnerable communities using SMS and IVR in Somalia and DRC. Recently, an interesting opportunity came up: sharing our data through Facebook’s new internet platform Free Basics.  This initiative aims to provide the 2/3 of the world’s population who do not have internet with basic web access and is currently available in 53 countries. Certain websites with “basic” content like news, employment opportunities, health, education and local information are available for free with no data charges. We’re always interested in exploring how new technology could help in the fight against hunger, so this month, we began testing our first Free Basics website in Malawi.

 Malawi: Our first test for Free Basics.

Why did we choose Malawi? Along with other countries in southern Africa, Malawi was affected by a drought that has affected agricultural production and caused food prices to soar. In late 2015, WFP set up a phone based market monitoring system that helps us track food prices all over the country on a weekly basis. Current forecasts estimate that 6.5 million people won’t be able to meet their basic food requirements. Households at risk of food insecurity can spend anywhere from half to three quarters of their budget on food, so sharing the data we have about food prices with the population might help people make informed decisions about their food purchases.

Introducing ‘Za Pamsika’

We’ve been working with the Praekelt Foundation incubator to set up a Free Basics website that shares this weekly price data for all of the districts we get the data from. We’ve called it ‘Za Pamsika’ literally ‘things you can find in the market’ in Chichewa, the main language in Malawi. It’s a really simple website. You click on your region and district to find out food prices in your area. You can also compare prices at nearby markets if you’re in an area with many market options.

The great thing about Free Basics is that you don’t need a smartphone to access our data for free – just an internet-enabled one from a participating MNO. The project therefore has the potential to provide food price information to all Malawians who have mobile phones with internet browsing capabilities. It’s also not even necessary to have a Facebook account! While we know that by only contacting people who have internet-enabled phones, we may be missing the most vulnerable households.  But it will still provide useful information for a large section of the population. Essentially, we see it as a step in the right direction toward making our data accessible to everyone.

The site has now been live for 10 days, and we’ve started seeing some results coming in, both the number of visitors and the demographics. As we’d expected, most of the people who’ve visited so far have been male and under 25.

It’s great to see that we already have some users, but we still have to make sure more people are aware of the site and it’s useful for them. We’ll be heading to the markets covered in the site with the WFP Country Office team, to speak to people first hand about the site and learn how we can improve it. Ultimately, the feedback we receive from people on the ground will help us to evaluate Free Basics as a tool to share data about food with the communities we serve.

After the storm: using big data to track displacement in Haiti

Photo: Igor Rugwiza – UN/MINUSTAH

This week’s blog is a guest entry by Gabriela Alvarado, the WFP Regional IT Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, Gaby lead the IT Working Group in Haiti, which provided support to the humanitarian response through the provision of
ETC Connectivity Services. The team from the Regional Bureau worked with mVAM and Flowminder to supply valuable time-bound information to the operation.


Supporting Emergencies through Technology & Joint Efforts

It’s now been just over a month since Hurricane Matthew made landfall in Haiti, devastating the western side of the country. The hurricane has affected an estimated 2.1 million people, leaving 1.4 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

In the days following the hurricane, a rapid food security assessment was carried out to determine the impact of the hurricane on the food security of households and communities in the affected areas.  In the most-affected areas, the départements of Grande-Anse and Sud, people reported that crops and livestock, as well as agricultural and fishing equipment, were almost entirely destroyed.


Credit: WFP

Credit: WFP

We all know the challenges we face at WFP when looking to collect information, in order to determine what would be the best response under the circumstances on the ground.  In the aftermath of the hurricane, which had destroyed infrastructure, caused flooding, and temporarily knocked out telecommunications, gathering information from affected areas was especially difficult. So, WFP’s Information Technology team in the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean reached out to Flowminder, a non-profit organization that uses big data analysis to answer questions that would be operationally relevant for government and aid agencies trying to respond to emergencies. Thanks to an existing agreement between WFP and Flowminder, WFP was able to quickly establish a working group and start data collection one day after the hurricane struck Haiti.


An aerial view of Jérémie following the passage of Hurricane Matthew (photo: Logan Abassi - UN/MINUSTAH)

An aerial view of Jérémie following the passage of Hurricane Matthew
(photo: Logan Abassi – UN/MINUSTAH)

Flowminder aggregates, integrates and analyses anonymous mobile operator data (call detail records), satellite and household survey data, which helps to estimate population displacements following a crisis. Displaced people are some of the most vulnerable following a hurricane, and knowing where people have gone helps to provide more effective assistance.

By 24 October 2016, Flowminder estimated that 260,500 people had been displaced within the Grande Anse, Sud, and Nippes départements. In Les Cayes, the major city in Sud, the population grew by an estimated 42% in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew according to Flowminder analysis. In fact, Flowminder analyses suggest that many people moved toward cities, even Jérémie and Les Cayes, which were severely damaged by the hurricane.




So how exactly did Flowminder make these estimates with so many areas barely accessible? By analysing anonymized call detail records from Digicel, one of Haiti’s major cell phone network providers, and comparing where people placed calls before and after the hurricane, Flowminder was able provide an estimate of the number of displaced people. Flowminder uses algorithms that look at where the last “transaction” (phone call or sms) took place each day in order to identify the place where people were living before the hurricane and then subsequently moved afterwards. . It makes sense – the last few calls or texts you make at night are often from your home. While Flowminder does not get exact locations from the call data records, they can identify a general home location using the closest cell phone tower. After identifying the home location, Flowminder needs to determine how many people each phone represents. In poorer areas, not everyone may own a phone, or many people may not be able to charge and use their phones after a natural disaster like a hurricane. Flowminder uses formulas which takes these factors into account, and translates the number of phones into an estimate of the number of people who are displaced.

How will this further help?

With the information provided by Flowminder, WFP is able to estimate:

  • possible gaps in assistance in areas of the country which were not damaged by Hurricane Matthew, but which are experiencing an influx of people in need of food assistance following the hurricane;
  • use and community ‘acceptance’ of the use of mobile money (one aspect is the availability of the service, while the other aspect is if it is being used in that area);
  • the prevalence and spread of diseases (including Cholera, which continues to pose a risk in the aftermath of the hurricane).

It has been a very challenging yet incredible opportunity to see where and how technology can be used to further support an emergency response under difficult conditions and to ensure that WFP can reach the most vulnerable after a disaster.

Is the road to hell paved with donated smartphones?

WFP/Catherine Clark

WFP/Catherine Clark

From time to time, people interested in mVAM will suggest we distribute cell phones to people who live in the vulnerable and food insecure communities where we work. It is usually a well-meaning idea, originating from specialists as they scope out a mobile-based data collection activity or a donor trying to help. After all, while phone
ownership has expanded exponentially, many poor people still do not have phones. It’s tempting to distribute devices to them as a solution to this disparity. However, our experience at mVAM and elsewhere has shown that we’re often better off going with the phones that people already have. This blog post explains why.

A checklist from UNICEF innovation

Others working with technology in developing countries have faced the same debates. We found that UNICEF innovation has come up with a useful list of questions to think about before distributing handsets or other hardware.

  1. Do you really need to distribute these devices?
  2. Who are they going to?
  3. How many of those people already have a smartphone? How about a dumb phone?
  4. How will you account for any loss of devices? Is that planned for?
  5. How will they be fixed when they break?
  6. How will you make sure devices are charged?
  7. What infrastructure do they connect to for information flow? Internet?
  8. Who trains people in how to use them?
  9. How does this affect the local economy? What is the market distortion on local hardware sellers? How many vendors might get put out of business?
  10. How do you make sure you don’t create a false incentive for the future?

An addendum from mVAM

On the basis of our experience, we’d like to add a few additional considerations to this list. mVAM’s own experience with cell phone distribution has been mixed. In 2012, we provided 400 cell phones to IDPs in eastern DR Congo, an idea we picked up from the literature (e.g. Listening to Dar). We tried to do the right thing by consulting with the community first. We offered low-end feature phones. We set up a solar charging station in the camp where people could recharge their phones for free. We also ensured that people received training in using the new devices.

On the one hand, we were pleased to see that we obtained a good response rate to our surveys from the camp and that providing access to cell phone technology empowered people (because the cell phones we provided allowed displaced people to call home, use mobile money for remittances, and obtain information). On the other hand, there unfortunately was also theft (42 phones were reported stolen!) and even cases of people being attacked for their devices. These findings are captured in the independent review of the mVAM activity that was published in 2015. Due to these concerns, we have not provided cell phones to people in other settings as mVAM has expanded.

So, we want to add another set of considerations to the UNICEF list :

  1. Are we putting people at risk ? mVAM surveys are sometimes carried out in very vulnerable conflict-affected communities. By receiving phones, people can be put at risk.
  2. Are there specific risks to women, the elderly, and the disabled? These groups are at specific risk of physical abuse.
  3. How would you replace a lost or stolen phone?
  4. Is providing phones sustainable? Providing and replacing phones in the long term can quickly become a financial burden, especially if people are in remote areas. When the population is concentrated (e.g. a camp or city), costs are lower.
  5. How could local regulations on cell phones affect your project? SIM cards are becoming highly regulated with requirements to provide an ID to authorities. This can be a barrier for some groups such as refugees. Some SIM cards will be cancelled if they are not ‘registered’ after a few weeks.
  6. What are the alternatives to providing phones? In some communities, poor and vulnerable households already have phones or have access to shared phones. It’s also important to remember that mobile data collection is not appropriate in all settings: sometimes, conventional tools such as face to face surveys are a better choice.

As we have gained more experience working in different contexts, we have concluded that we’re better off working with the phones people already have. Sometimes, that means designing our data collection strategy around the information that can be credibly collected when phone ownership or network coverage is limited. For instance, in places where cell phone penetration is low (~20%), we have not attempted to run a representative survey of households but have focused instead on obtaining information from a set of key informants, as we did in Afghanistan or the Central African Republic.

Welcome to Vamistan



Since we started in 2012, mVAM has worked to share our knowledge with others — this was encouraged by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, our first donor, and this blog is part of that commitment to sharing and documenting what we do. In the last few years, we have set up a learning lab to scale up capacities in data collection and analysis but also to share data and learning with the broader community. In this regard, we’ve seen others inside WFP and other organizations reuse the methodologies and lessons learned we have been sharing on our resource center.  But we wanted to go even further in our information sharing. In this spirit, we’re now working to set up a fully fledged online course how to implement a remote mobile data collection system. We want to allow anyone anywhere to learn about using remote mobile data collection for food security monitoring and then use it in their own work.

So, what can you or your colleague, or a friend who has never heard of mVAM before, learn by taking the course? The course walks you through the overall life cycle of remote food security data collection and covers specific issues such as designing a questionnaire or an appropriate sample frame. By the end of the course you’ll be familiar with remote data collection approaches and tools. As well as understanding where and when it is appropriate to use these tools you’ll be able to design and implement short remote mobile-based surveys using SMS, voice and IVR technologies. You’ll even get your own certificate once you’ve completed the course. Pretty exciting stuff, we know.


Our fictional country Vamistan

The course is completely free. We’ve done our best to mix it up, using videos and presentations and online resources to share our knowledge and make the course as interactive as possible. We’ve even invented a fictional case study country ‘Vamistan’ that participants can follow to really reflect on how they can harness mobile technology.

We’ve partnered before with Leiden University and we have been lucky enough to have the support of their Online Learning Lab when designing the course. In August we had a visit from one of their online learning experts, an Instructional Designer who gave us tips on course design and didactics. This week one of Leiden’s ‘video experts’ came to Rome to film those members of the team who appeared in the videos.


WFP/Alice Clough

The lab has a lot of experience in this field, their courses are reaching over 480,000 participants in 196 countries. So we’ve been working with leaders in the field to deliver a high quality online course. We’ve been having fun making it and we’re looking forward to sharing the finished product. It should be up and running in the near future so stay tuned!  We’ll tell you exactly how to sign up and share the news. We hope you’ll check it out!

Prince Charming: A Triplex Tale


Welcome to “Sorland”! (Photo: WFP/Jennifer Browning)

The mVAM team sent a team member, Jen, to Triplex, the largest humanitarian emergency simulation in the world. mVAM was thrilled to join over 400 military, UN, government and NGO participants who travelled to Lista, Norway, for training in how to respond to a humanitarian emergency. In the pre-exercise stage, we presented our work on mVAM, and we hope that our participation will help to increase our engagement with such a diverse group of partners. There were also interesting presentations on shelter, supply chain, data analysis, and new tools. 

Our favorite session was on smart assessments. Lars Peter Nissen, Director of ACAPS, offered important wisdom that we should always strive to follow with mVAM. He warned against getting trapped in your own small study and losing what he termed “situational awareness,” or the bigger picture.

His three rules for humanitarian analysts to live by:

  1. “Know what you need to know.”
  2. “Make sense, not data.”
  3. “Don’t be precisely wrong, be approximately right.”

In thinking about how we can apply these three gems to our work on remote data collection, we need to make a constant effort to collect data that will really help improve humanitarian responses. Like all data nerds, we can sometimes get bogged down in calculating exact bias estimates or making sample size calculations, risking losing sight of the bigger picture from down in the weeds of our small mVAM survey in one country. But we need to remember to look at the wider situation to ensure we are collecting useful information.


Presenting mVAM (Photo: WFP/Lucy Styles)

Then we need to make sense of our data by triangulating with what others are doing and what we already know. In our mVAM bulletins, we need to communicate clearly in a way that makes data quickly understandable to decision-makers. We need to pay attention to what the trends from our mVAM data are telling us, while not forgetting the limitations of the remote mobile data collection methodology.

After a couple days of introspection, or as we would find out later, the calm before the storm, the two-day pre-exercise ended and we embarked on the natural disaster simulation phase. We boarded buses or “flights” and travelled to Base Camp in “Sorland”, a fictional developing country that had just been hit by a hurricane and where the simulation would take place.  For the next 72 hours we would do our best to respond, learning along the way.  

The organizers made a herculean effort to have the 72 hours be as realistic as possible. We were sleeping in (admittedly high tech) tents and crossing a road jammed with huge supply trucks and lines of land rovers. The scale was impressive. Prince Harry even flew a helicopter in to observe the exercise and play the role of a Minister from the Sorland government. The organizers couldn’t have planned it, but at one point, the winds became dangerously high, almost making it necessary to really evacuate us.


The Minister of “Sorland” played by Prince Harry (Photo: WFP/Jennifer Browning)

In these conditions as in any real life emergency, it was inevitable that we would run into problems. We had planned to deploy mVAM quickly. The organizers had provided us with a list of phone numbers of IDPs in “Sorland,” actually students from the United Nations University in Bonn who did a great job role playing throughout the simulation. We wanted to contact them via SMS, using Pollit, the in-house SMS survey tool developed by InStedd. We have used Pollit successfully in Goma to collect food prices, but for Pollit to work, you need a WiFi connection. (For more on Pollit, see our blog entries Pollit Customized and Ready to Go and Working with DRC Youth to Text Back Market Prices).  At Triplex,  WiFi was supposed to be up and running the first evening, but conditions on the ground made it difficult to establish a connection. We didn’t get WiFi until the last night of the exercise, which was too late for us to use Pollit.

So instead, we participated in OCHA-led face-to-face surveys and in focus group discussions. Sometimes we get so caught up in remote data collection that these other data collection exercises can fall off our radar screen, but there is so much we learn from talking to local communities face-to-face and from coordinating with other partner agencies as they plan their own data collection. So perhaps because WiFi was such a problem, Triplex turned into a great experience to keep our coordination and face-to-face data collection skills sharp.


The Logistics Cluster explains access constraints (Photo: WFP/Ricardo Gonzalez)

In addition to collaborating with different organizations, working within a diverse team of WFP colleagues from different units pushed us to consult closely and understand what information they needed most. At WFP headquarters, we don’t generally have the same opportunity to work this closely on a daily basis with colleagues from other branches like logistics, procurement, and cash-based transfers. As WFP considered a potential cash-based transfer response for the fictional Sorland, it became clear that operationally, information on market functioning and food availability was very important. This meant that  while we were not able to use existing mVAM tools per se, we recognized clear demand within WFP to address this critical information gap. For next time, we will keep these information needs, i.e. “knowing what we need to know,” clearly in mind. And we’ll also make sure to prepare for all types of scenarios, think about the limitations of our technology, and do our best to have a Plan B.

Even without WiFi and Pollit, the Triplex simulation ended up being very relevant and provided a great brainstorming session for what came later. During the 72 hour simulation, colleagues from Haiti and Cuba were receiving increasingly grim alerts about the approach of Hurricane Matthew. Through Triplex, we’d already identified some of the information that could be most relevant in responding to a hurricane. So our practice in Sorland turned out to be very useful in quickly deciding what questions to ask in Haiti where we are rolling out a remote market assessment. Stay tuned for more!


Going mobile in Afghanistan


WFP food security analyst Mudasir Nazar talking to internally displaced people (IDPs) in a camp near Kabul, during an mVAM scoping mission in October 2016. (Photo: WFP/Jean-Martin Bauer)

More than three decades of war, unrest and natural disasters has left Afghanistan with poor infrastructure and millions in severe poverty and facing enormous recovery needs. This insecurity pushed many Afghans to flee to surrounding countries like Iran or further afield to western Europe. It’s estimated there are 2.5 million Afghan refugees currently living in Pakistan many of whom arrived in the country in the late ‘70s during the war with the Soviet Union. In fact, in Pakistan, most Afghan refugees are second or third generation. Because of renewed political tensions, thousands are now starting to return to Afghanistan from Pakistan and it’s expected that there will be 600,000 arrivals by the end of the year. These returnees will require temporary assistance as they reestablish their livelihoods. Along with other humanitarian agencies, WFP is ramping up its work to prepare for this influx of people.

Mobile population, mobile monitoring

For humanitarian agencies like WFP, moving around Afghanistan is often difficult due to security restrictions and remoteness. This means we often have trouble directly contacting the returnees and IDPs we are helping, and getting information on the security or market situation in areas where they are settling.

But this is changing: mobile technologies now allow us to collect information remotely, not only from beneficiaries themselves, but also from members of the community such as tribal elders or shopkeepers. We are now preparing to use mVAM to reach people throughout Afghanistan – an approach that WFP already uses in nearly 30 countries.

Mudasir Nazar is a food security and market analyst with WFP Afghanistan, and is leading the set-up of mVAM here. After completing a Master’s degree in  Humanitarian Assistance at Tufts University (US), Mudasir is now back in Afghanistan with WFP. Like many of the returnees WFP is now helping, Mudasir grew up as an Afghan refugee in Peshawar, Pakistan. He came back to Afghanistan with his family years ago, settling in Kabul, but still relates very personally to what returnee families are going through at the moment: ‘A few years ago, I was in their shoes,’ he says.

Through mVAM, we will be asking questions about market food prices and food availability in areas where people are settling; what humanitarian assistance people need and what they are already receiving; and what livelihoods and coping strategies they are using to survive in their new (often temporary) homes. This data will allow us to understand the context into which people are resettling, and help WFP and others to provide the right type of assistance, to the right people.

Using mobile monitoring makes sense: the Afghan cell phone market has grown tremendously in past years. There are an estimated 20 million cell phone subscriptions in the country, out of a total population of 30 million people.  A recent study by USAID shows that while only 25% of women are literate, 80% have access to a mobile phone – either their own or shared within their household. When we visited an IDP camp recently and asked who owned at least one mobile phone in their household, everyone raised their hands.


Mudasir holds a power bank which is typically used to charge phones. (Photo: WFP/Jean-Martin Bauer)

We have found that most of the people we meet tend to utilize only the basic features of their phones, and rarely use SMS or other messaging services. IDPs and returnees also often have trouble keeping their phones charged, since many are living in informal settlements with no electricity. Though some own small portable ‘power banks’, many have to pay to charge their phones elsewhere. People also often don’t have any airtime balance on their phone. They typically top up once a month with a credit of 50 Afghanis (roughly US$1), which runs out quite fast.

So what does this mean for mVAM in Afghanistan?

Firstly, we will be calling people through live operators – rather than using more sophisticated tools such as SMS or robocalls, as WFP did in other countries. Secondly, we will need to provide a modest airtime credit incentive to encourage people to answer, and to help offset any battery charging costs.

We  will also make sure that our call center is staffed by all-female operators, to make sure we reach women, some of whom might otherwise be reluctant to speak to a male stranger over the phone.



WFP Yemen M&E: Reaching Beneficiaries During Widespread Conflict

As mVAM has been expanding we’ve started to see the remote technology used in other areas of WFP’s work. This week’s blog is from Katy Huang who works for the Yemen Country Office. She shares how the M&E unit is using remote live calls to get feedback from beneficiaries about WFP’s assistance. 


WFP/-Asmaa Waguih

Before joining WFP Yemen’s Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) unit 8 month ago, I worked as a researcher for the New York City Health Department. As I love the creative process of collecting, analyzing and reporting data, I was excited for the opportunity to manage our unit’s “remote M&E” (rM&E) system. Currently, Yemen’s Emergency Operation assists about 3 million beneficiaries a month. Our rM&E system uses an third country call center to conduct phone surveys with beneficiaries post-distribution to hear about their experiences receiving and using the assistance. The center completes about 2000-2400 surveys per month.

Before establishing the rM&E system in September 2015, we learned in a previous post-distribution monitoring survey that a large majority of our emergency in-kind food beneficiaries owned a mobile phone or had access to a friend or neighbor’s mobile. We also found out that a large majority of mobile owners were able to charge their mobiles on a regular basis. This information meant that conducting mobile surveys proved to be ideal within the context of Yemen’s ongoing and widespread conflict as it allowed us to reach large numbers of beneficiaries without compromising the safety of field monitors. Other benefits of using rM&E include it’s relative low cost and being we can reach beneficiaries in all the governorates where we offer assistance. Also, in the 15-20 minutes it takes to complete a survey, we have been able to collect all the key process and food security outcome indicators that we also collect in our longer bi-annual face-to-face post-distribution monitoring surveys. Ultimately, rM&E complements other M&E systems (i.e., on-site distribution monitoring and beneficiary hotline) to triangulate and confirm findings.


WFP/Asmaa Waguih

Although there are many benefits to using rM&E, challenges do exist. Bias is the main issue as data collected by rM&E tends to be more biased than data collected face-to-face. Some of the biases we face relate to the following:

  • Sampling frame bias: We don’t have the entire list of mobile numbers of beneficiaries for random calling. The amount of mobile numbers we receive depends on what cooperating partners collect from beneficiaries at the time of food distribution. We have had to regularly remind cooperating partners about the importance of sending us these mobile lists. In addition, some beneficiaries don’t own a mobile phone and they may have different characteristics, such as being more poor or vulnerable, than those that do own mobiles.
  • Gender bias: The frequency of female respondents for rM&E (about 5 percent) are lower than that of face-to-face (about 10 percent). This may be due to more males than females owning mobile phones. To try to address this, the call center recently hired more female enumerators to engage female beneficiaries to respond.

Despite these biases, the amount and quality of data we have been able to collect on a monthly basis have been invaluable. The large sample size has allowed us to report nationally representative data and to disaggregate data by activity type (i.e., in-kind, voucher) or demographics (i.e., displacement, gender). With regular monitoring, we are able to see trends and compare results over months and quarters. To see how we used this data for reporting, please see our Yemen M&E Quarter 1 2016 report.

For more information on mVAM’s work in Yemen, please visit the mVAM Yemen site.

6,000 degrees of mVAM


For the last six years Northern Nigeria and the surrounding countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon have been suffering under Boko Haram insurgency. Across the four countries affected, security and humanitarian conditions are still deteriorating as populations continue to flee the systemic violence and conflict. We’ve previously written about how WFP is using mVAM in Niger to get dynamic data to complement their face-to-face surveys but we also wanted to blog about what we are doing in Nigeria itself.

Recent offensives by the Nigerian government have meant that many areas of northeastern Nigeria have recently become accessible – ‘showing’ the depth of the humanitarian crisis. In the worst affected areas of Borno and Yobe states famine-like conditions may be occurring. It’s now estimated that 2.1 million people are displaced, 81% of whom are living in local communities. This influx of people, coupled with successive poor harvests and a worsening economy has also put a strain on the host communities, there are now 4.4 million people who are food insecure.


Security constraints in northeastern Nigeria continue to limit the ability to conduct traditional face-to-face surveys, especially in Borno state. As mVAM has proven itself a useful tool in conflict settings and gathering information in difficult to access areas, the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and WFP have opted to use remote data collection to collect basic food security and market data.

The scale of the crisis and affected population meant that we wanted to try and reach even more people than our normal sample sizes of 1500. In our June/July round, we managed to reach slightly over 6,000 households in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States, greatly increasing the reach and precision of our estimates.

Our findings showed that household purchasing power has deteriorated and more families are food insecure.  In the Local Government Areas (LGA) of Potiskum in Yobe State and Maiduguri/Jere in Borno State, the percentage of severely food insecure households effectively doubled since February-March. In the same time period, prices for local rice and local maize have risen but manual labour wage rates did not increase, severely reducing household purchasing power.  We also found that, despite this, only 11% of the surveyed population report that they received food assistance in the last 30 days.

Alongside collecting traditional food security indicators, this large sample size means that we had the chance to ask 6,000 households to express in their own words what the food security situation in their community.  They told us:

“There is no food in the community.  Because of the insurgency people have stopped farming” – Male Resident from Shelling, Adamawa

“The food situation over here is so critical…not only the IDPs, even the residents are suffering themselves“-Male IDP in Gujba, Yobe

“Food are scarce, even the middle spend all their income on food because of how difficult the situation is here” Male Resident in Nguru, Yobe  

As we prepare to call back these same households in November, we’d like help.  If you had the chance to reach  6,000 households in Northern Nigeria – what would you ask?
Here’s the questionnaire we used last round. Please tell us what you would like to ask – just fill in the contact form below.

VAM Talks: Episode 8

Logo2Alice Clough interviews Gideon Shimshon from Leiden University’s Centre of Innovation about collaborating with WFP and how using Big Data analysis can help promote food security.