Household responses to food insecurity in northeastern Ghana
When grain production falls short of consumption expectations in self-provisioning households, a range of responses is possible. How each household selects from and manages these responses provides the theoretical and empirical focus of this thesis. Several problematic issues in the 'coping strategies' literature are addressed, including questions of response sequencing and 'discrete stages', the timing of asset sales for food, and the relationship between consumption protecting and consumption modifying strategies. Among other theoretical advances, criteria for response sequencing are identified which explain decisions about which assets to sell for food, and when, in terms of each asset's expected return rather than its immediate 'entitlement' value. This thesis is grounded in fieldwork conducted in the West African semi-arid tropics, a region characterised by seasonally, agricultural risk and market imperfections. Drought and armyworms undermined crop production in the fieldwork village in 1987/8. The community is highly stratified economically, and striking cross-sectional contrasts in household behaviour and nutritional outcomes were observed. Food secure households practice demographic, agronomic and economic diversification, which provide access to sources of food and income that are not correlated to local economic fluctuations. Consumption insecure households have narrower options and respond to production deficits by wealth depletion (asset monetisation, debt acquisition) and severe food rationing. Responses to production deficits are not confined to strategies for acquiring food. Multiple objectives - economic, nutritional and social - are retained. Nutritional adjustments are motivated by intertemporal economic priorities. The poorest households protected their assets and rationed consumption most severely: the cost of consuming resources rises as the number and value of assets owned falls. Within households, nutritional surveillance revealed that adults rationed their food consumption earlier and more severely than their children. Adult anthropometric status may therefore be a more robust predictor of food insecurity and economic stress than child anthropometry.