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April 7, 2011

Africans and food security: what do opinion polls tells us?

April 7, 2011
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I don’t normally associate opinion polls with development (apart from the exhaustive UK and other market research opinion pollconducted by our campaigners) but in recent weeks a couple of powerpoints have swum in front of my glazed eyes showing some interesting results from opinion polls in large numbers of poor countries, conducted by Gallup and Globescan, two polling companies.

Gallup does an annual ‘world poll’ in 100 countries and this year focussed on food security, especially in Sub Saharan Africa. Findings?

Sub-Saharan Africans perceive agriculture (20%) and jobs (19%) as the most important issues for their governments to address

–Two-thirds (66%) of sub-Saharan Africans say their government is not doing enough to help people get food

–Nearly 6 in 10 (59%) say there have been times in the last 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy the food that they or their family needed

–Over a third of sub-Saharan Africans say they or their families have gone without food in the last 12 months several times, many times or always

–Sub-Saharan Africans across 26 countries rank reducing poverty and reducing hunger as the top two most important goals

The full powerpoint is here. More from Gallup on how Africans rank the MDGs here

Meanwhile Globescan annually surveys 26,000 adults in 26 countries, and their latest round up finds the following:

A significant decline in enthusiasm for free market capitalism

NGOs remain the most trusted institutions – must be all that high quality research…. – followed by (in descending order), ‘people in general in this country’, the UN, large national companies, religious groups, global companies, the press/media and bottom of the heap, national governments.

The most serious global problem in the eyes of the public is extreme poverty, followed by corruption. Least Globescan global problem rankingimportant of those suggested are religious fundamentalism and international migration (so either the populist politicians, or the pollsters have got something seriously wrong….)

Concern has ebbed on many environmental issues, particularly climate change, but interestingly, has fallen quickest in the rich countries, so public concern over what’s happening to the planet is now greater outside the OECD than in the traditional home territory of the environmental movement.

I don’t set huge store by these attempts to take the global pulse, but they are thought-provoking if nothing else. They also offer a potential solution to INGOs’ poor track record in doing longitudinal surveys to track how poor people’s lives change over the long term – why don’t we sit the pollsters down in a room with some of the participatory research gurus and come up with a stripped down, periodic version of the World Bank’s epic, but very complex and expensive ‘Voices of the Poor’ exercise – any takers? [h/t Andrew Rzepa, Gallup and Doug Miller, Globescan]


  1. Interesting. I don’t know how accurate polls really are – I suspect you have to look closely at who people are talking to and where to see if you are getting a realistic picture.
    If they are correct, you then have to look at how you can use them effectively to influence policy makers. Another approach is Reality Check
    – this is in-depth but what’s interesting is it seems to be used by policymakers.

  2. Yes! I think it’s a great idea. GCAP is planning to begin releasing this year a ‘World We Want’ report that will bring together peoples experiences, civil society analysis, and (we hope) some large scale, longitudinal global data. This year’s first shot is slated for October, but we’re keen to look at ways of evolving in the future. Maybe we can discuss further?

  3. Hi Duncan,

    I’m a very big fan. Thank you for the nod to Voices of the Poor. Your suggestion of more systematic use of qual methods in the global surveys is a creative one. At a minimum, it should put more meat on polling results telling us that people in Africa see poverty as a major problem.

    I can no longer recall the budget, but Voices of the Poor was not that expensive for its scope. Generally, a qual study is less expensive and has a faster turnaround than survey research when rapid qual assessment techniques are used. Oxfam’s rapid data collection around the global financial crisis is one example of valuable work with these tools, no?

    Unfortunately, though, I’ve yet to see many great examples of qual-quant twinning. The bureaucratic authority, budgets, mindsets and concepts informing the respective approaches are so different; and qual results often get marginalized (as you probably know, Ravi Kanbur, among others, has done excellent work on this challenge).

    As a lowly consultant, I cannot speak for the World Bank, but of course I’d be game to brainstorm with pollsters. Qual sampling and analysis techniques have advanced a lot since Voices of the Poor. We used some of the new approaches with Moving Out of Poverty, and we are building on those and trying others out with the qual data just collected for the upcoming World Development Report on gender. Hmmm, could we imagine the World Bank as the qualitative anchor of a major comparative research partnership with pollsters? That might switch up the balance a little.

    Thanks for the great blog!

  4. Duncan, my biggest worry of all with these polls are as follows:
    Do the people understand what is being asked; what is the definition of poverty, I asked this question in the past and am still waiting for substantial answer; and is it a poll that gives an useable result or is it massaged to give the answer that the poll company wants?

    My experience is that most of the people polled either do not understand the question, because of language problems or repeat the words that have been learnt during sessions with NGO’s. Just wondering if this gives afair view of what realy is the situation in African countries.

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