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27 February 2015

Global Food Prices, Regime Type, and Urban Unrest in the Developing World

Cullen Hendrix, a lead researcher on the CCAPS program, and Stephan Haggard recently published an article on global food prices and urban unrest in the Journal of Peace Research. Their research, which focuses on Africa and Asia and uses data from 1961 to 2010, is also highlighted in NewSecurityBeat, a blog by the Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program.

In their piece, the authors look at the relationship between type of government and food-related instability. Though only 15 percent of world food production is traded on international markets, prices for the remaining 85 percent – which circulates in local, regional, and national markets – are increasingly aligned with world prices. Local climate conditions in major exporting countries can thus have dramatic effects on food prices continents away. Despite seemingly frequent food-related protests and riots over the past five years, it is clear that food prices do not lead to unrest in all places. Why do high global food prices give rise to urban unrest in some places and not in others? The very features of democracy that make it better suited to address the issues of the rural sector – where chronic food insecurity is most prevalent – also make democracies more likely to see unrest in times of high food prices. In particular, developing democracies – where households spend a larger proportion of their income on food – are more prone to urban unrest in times of high prices.

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