This report reviews the literature on links between international food prices and political instability
(including protests, riots and social unrest). The literature on food prices and protests, riots, unrest, or violent incidents consists mainly of peer-reviewed scholarly articles that utilise econometric modeling. Some early studies examined the links between international food prices and political instability and found conflicting results. Some assessments concluded that there were links between international food prices or food insecurity and the number of violent incidents, while others found that such a link was tenuous. Subsequent work points out that international food prices do not always lead to increases in domestic food prices for a number of reasons (Van Weezel, 2016; Weinberg & Bakker, 2015). Scholars have moved away from using data on international food prices and tend to use data that is adjusted, to reflect the trends in domestic food prices or the variance between international and domestic food prices.
This literature review covers some of the main arguments and findings in the recent literature on food prices and political instability or conflict. The majority of the econometric studies in this review find that there is a link between food price increases and a greater probability of protests, riots or social unrest. However, there are still a few studies that have contradictory results. So, the debate on the effect of food prices on political stability continues.
Evidence from quantitative studies and observation on conflict affecting the prices of or access to food:
- Children in conflict zones have the lower height for age and weight for age ratios while stunting and wasting is prevalent (Martin-Shields & Stojetz, 2019);
- Food prices rose in Darfur after the onset of conflict (Arezki & Bruckner, 2011);
- A study in Afghanistan found a negative association between conflict and food security; and (D’Souza & Jolliffe, 2013);
- Conflict can lead to a decline in agricultural production and hence the availability of food (Brinkman & Hendrix, 2011).
Evidence from quantitative studies on higher food prices leading to a greater probability of protests or social unrest (Arezki & Bruckner, 2011; Smith, 2014; Raleigh et al., 2015; Bellemare, 2015; Weinberg & Bakker, 2015). More specifically:
- Most of these studies account for domestic variations in food prices and study the relationship between conflict and food prices over an extended period of time;
- There remains a small number of studies that find weak links between food prices and protests, riots or other forms of unrest (Hendrix et al., 2009; Buhaug et al., 2015; Van Weezel, 2016);
- A qualitative study on the motivations of protest in Bangladesh and India confirms the assertions made by some scholars that while food prices may trigger some form of unrest the underlying causes relate to long-standing economic or political grievances (Heslin, 2020);
- There is little mention of gender in the literature although there is a study that mentions that girls are more affected than boys when crop failure affects the availability of food. In addition, pregnant women in conflict areas are more likely to give birth to underweight babies (Brinkman & Hendrix, 2011; Martin-Shields & Stojetz, 2019);
- Disability was not discussed in the literature reviewed in this report.