Scenario Development

Food security early warning requires the estimation of future food security outcomes many months in advance, so that decision makers have adequate time to plan for and respond to potential humanitarian crises. However, the complex web of factors shaping food security makes it impossible to definitively predict future outcomes. Scenario development is a methodology that allows FEWS NET to reconcile these two issues by developing a “most likely” scenario of the future. This allows FEWS NET to fulfill its primary mandate to provide early warning on food security crises to decision makers. To learn more about scenario development, see the FEWS NET Introduction to Scenario Development video or read the FEWS NET Scenario Development for Food Security Early Warning Guidance Document. To read a one-page fact sheet on scenario development, click here.

What is scenario development?

Commonly used by planners, policy-makers and researchers of various disciplines, scenario development is a methodology for forecasting future events. It relies on analysis of the current situation, the creation of informed assumptions about the future, a comparison of their possible effects, and the likely responses of various actors. At its core, scenario development is an “if - then” statement-but one that gains rigor through analysis.

FEWS NET and scenario development

Every four months, FEWS NET analysts use the scenario development process to estimate food security outcomes for the coming eight months. Using a consistent eight-step process, analysts assess the current food security situation in areas of concern, make assumptions about the future, and consider how those assumptions might affect food and income sources for poor households. Then, based on the convergence of evidence, they determine the most likely scenario and classify the expected levels of food insecurity using the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). Last, they identify major events or changes that could affect the outcome.

These scenarios form the basis of FEWS NET's Food Security Outlook reports, issued in February, June and October. In other ensuing months, developments and changes to the scenario are reported in Food Security Outlook Updates.

Why use this methodology?

Scenario development builds structure and logic into the analytic process. It reduces overreliance on expert judgment or too-simple projections of what could happen.  The methodology works particularly well in estimating food security outcomes because of our regular data collection. Each month, as new data becomes available, our analysts are able to improve their assumptions. When assumptions are strong, uncertainty decreases, and the likelihood of the scenario increases.

FEWS NET has used scenario building to:

  • Assess the impact of drought on poor farming households in Somalia
  • Estimate the effect of currency devaluation in Malawi on food security
  • Project impact of extensive flooding in Nigeria on the regional market
  • Understand the effects of coffee rust on labor dependent households in Central America

FEWS NET scenario development steps

Fact sheet for Scenario Development


The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis on some 34 countries. Implementing team members include NASA, NOAA, USDA, and USGS, along with Chemonics International Inc. and Kimetrica. Read more about our work.

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