Food prices can predict riots – new study

Published: 22 April 2015 at 14:08

Anglia Ruskin researchers identify point which can spark conflict in fragile states.

New research by Anglia Ruskin University shows how increases in food prices can be used to predict rioting and domestic conflict across the world.

The study, by academics at Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, is published in the open access journal Sustainability.

Recent events have shown how the lack of access to food can lead to violent protests.  Increases in global food prices in 2008 and 2011 were a factor in the unrest across North Africa and the Middle East, which became known as the Arab Spring.  As prices peaked, violence broke out in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Libya and Tunisia.

The new research identifies a threshold for the Food and Agriculture Organisation Food Price Index (FAO FPI), above which food riots are more likely to occur.

When the FAO FPI goes above this threshold (148), countries classified as having the highest levels of fragility have a 36.7% risk of experiencing food riots.  Based on the Anglia Ruskin research and the latest “political instability” scores published by the World Bank, the following countries and territories are most at risk of seeing food riots:

  • Somalia
  • Syrian Arab Republic
  • Pakistan
  • Afghanistan
  • Republic of Yemen
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Sudan
  • Central African Republic
  • Nigeria
  • Iraq
  • West Bank and Gaza
  • Libya
  • South Sudan
  • Lebanon
  • Mali
  • Egypt
  • Bangladesh

The risk of rioting drops to 17.8% for the next group of countries, which includes China, India and Russia. The UK falls into the third group, with a 5.0% risk of rioting. The most stable group of countries, with no likelihood of rioting if the price threshold is reached, includes Norway, New Zealand, Germany and Canada.

Surprisingly the research indicates that even if a country is self-sufficient and produces enough food to meet its own needs, it does not reduce the likelihood of food riots occurring. Instead the political stability of the country is the most important factor.

Dr Aled Jones, Director of Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute and co-author of the report, said:

“High food prices increase the risk of conflict in countries already experiencing instability. "

“Climate change is expected to increase the pressure on our food systems due to drought and flooding. At the same time global demand for food is increasing, meaning food prices will rise.  Therefore more research is needed to understand how climate change can lead to more conflict in parts of the world that are already unstable.”