Food Prices and Unrest

How Access to Food Affects Political Climate

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With evidence of riots around food-price spikes in 2007-08 and 2010-11, the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report that food prices may nearly double by 2050 carries with it the possibility for immense social discord. A collaboration between the University of Denver's Cullen Hendrix and scholars from the University of California, San Diego aimed to understand the connections between food prices and political unrest.

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About the Project

The work drew on a dataset examining political unrest in 55 major cities spread between 49 different African and Asian countries. In addition to analyzing food prices and general unrest, the researchers integrated type of government as an essential factor. In doing so, the team discovered that the relationship between food-price increases and rioting is largely tied to regime type: democracies are more prone to urban unrest during periods of high food prices than autocracies.

The project demonstrated that these tendencies derive from both political opportunity and policy differences around food, with autocracies tending to favor urban residents in their policies, while democracies lightly favoring rural citizens. The knowledge produced by this study is essential as we prepare ourselves for the numerous challenges posed by climate change.

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Cullen Hendrix

Cullen Hendrix is a professor at the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy at the Korbel School of International Studies, and also serves as the Center's director. His scholarship has been published across a wide range of academic journals focused on political science, environmental politics, and climate change, and his work has informed policy documents used by international governing bodies including the United Nations.