Make loaves, not war: Government stability key to minimising food riot risk

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

In the aftermath of extreme weather, the study found that Kenya experienced more widespread violent unrest (four episodes in 2004) than did Ghana (one episode in 2007). ©iStock
In the aftermath of extreme weather, the study found that Kenya experienced more widespread violent unrest (four episodes in 2004) than did Ghana (one episode in 2007). ©iStock

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Violent uprisings related to food scarcity will depend more on the strength of a country's government rather than the impact of climate change, a study says.

The study believes that reducing state vulnerability can address the decrease in food availability and the issue of food entitlements that can often trigger violent protests.

The team from Ohio State University also state that responding to consequences of climate-induced food scarcity will mean going beyond providing food aid to compensate short-term food shortfalls.

“A capable government is even more important to keeping the peace than good weather,"​ said Dr Bear Braumoeller, co-author of the study and associate professor of political science at The Ohio State University.

"We've already started to see climate change as an issue that won't just put the coasts under water, but as something that could cause food riots in some parts of the world,"​ Braumoeller said.

Dr Braumoeller pointed to unique weather patterns such as droughts and floods that devastated crop yields in Kenya and Ghana during the 2000s.

However, in the aftermath of these extreme weather events, Kenya experienced more widespread violent unrest with four episodes in 2004 compared to Ghana with only one episode in 2007.

The team believed the greater violent unrest that Kenya experienced was due to its inability to insulate itself economically from the effects of poor weather.

In contrast, Ghana’s population was much smaller, and its GDP per capita was higher, well above the median level in Africa.

As a result, President John Kufuor responded by approving a $1 billion, (€891 billion) package designed to ease the impact of the drought on the country.

"Climate-induced food scarcity is going to become an increasingly big issue and we wanted to understand which countries are most threatened by it,"​ Dr Braumoeller said.

Accounting for food shocks

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The threat of food insecurity can be determined by the prospect of decreased access to food due to shocks to the price and supply of food within a state. ©iStock

Along with Dr Braumoeller, Dr Benjamin Jones, assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Mississippi and Dr Eleonora Mattiacci, post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Political Science at Amherst College, used specific measurements for food shocks that lead to violence and assess a country’s vulnerability.

The team paid particular attention to rainfall, temperature and the international prices of food, including sudden increases in prices.

Country specific examinations included the use of data on violent uprisings in Africa in the period between 1991 and 2011.

In addition, a country’s dependence on agricultural production, imports, the strength of political institutions and its wealth were also accounted for.

"We recognized that countries that imported food could be impacted by climate shocks in other parts of the world that suddenly increased prices, even if they weren't experiencing any significant weather impacts themselves,"​ Braumoeller said.

"We found that the most vulnerable countries are those that have weak political institutions, are relatively poor and rely more on agriculture.

"Less vulnerable countries can better handle the problems that droughts or food price fluctuations create."

Beyond food aid

The findings give new insights into how the worldwide community can act to address these challenges.

According to Dr Braumoeller, addressing the vulnerabilities of countries is "crucial to breaking the link between food insecurity and violence."

Counteracting the worst consequences of climate-induced food scarcity will entail going beyond providing food aid to offset food shortfalls in the short term, the study stated.

An approach would also require policies to strengthen the structural resilience of vulnerable states.

For example, the study suggested investments in ‘green growth’ policies aimed at increasing economic growth while fostering resilience to climate shocks.

“These strategies can boost the wealth of the state and provide the government with a greater capacity to respond to shocks in the future, while simultaneously reducing the likelihood of negative environmental impacts,”​ the study recommended.

"Development aid is important now and it is likely to be even more important in the future as we look for ways to increase climate resilience," ​Braumoeller added.

Source: Journal of Peace Research

Published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1177/0022343316684662

“Food scarcity and state vulnerability: Unpacking the link between climate variability and violent unrest.”

Authors: Benjamin Jones, Eleonora Mattiacci, Bear F Braumoeller.


Related topics Policy Sustainability

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