This reports on ActionAid's project aimed at strengthening emergency preparedness and responses in famine vulnerable areas in a number of African countries. It examines the setting up of Community Based Food Security Monitoring Systems (CBMS) that help field staff make timely predictions about impending food shortages. One of the principles of a CBMS is that it is 'people-centred', and the community should be involved with data collection, interpretation and response. The aim is to build up a picture of the way peoples' livelihoods operate and what constraints and stresses they face. To assess the food security situation, PRA techniques are used including semi-structured interviews with key informants and group discussions with farmers and village leaders. PRA is also used to collect data on early warning indicators. The paper comments however that it is best not to take a full community-managed approach in circumstances where a number of participatory prerequisites are not in place.