Food price shocks have incited widespread political unrest but not all countries experience the effects in the same manner. The purpose of this research is to help determine why some countries experience protests, riots, and demonstrations in reaction to rapidly increasing food prices, while at the same time, other countries remain immune from unrest. I constructed several models in order to test my hypotheses and using a count variable for political unrest events as my dependent variable, I tested my models using a negative binomial regression model. This study has attempted to quantitatively test the merits of the relationship between food price spikes on the events of political unrest. I tested this relationship using a sample of 47 countries during the period of 1990-2010.
In the course of this research, I ran several models in order to measure the relationship between certain variables on the likelihood of events of political unrest. Model 3 proved to be the most impressive model. By including the variable for the change in food prices from one year to the next, as hypothesized, the percent of urban population and whether or not a country imports food became statistically significant. In this model, all variables included, with the exception of Polity II, were highly significant as well. This model suggests that a positive change in the food price index along with a highly urbanized population would create more protest in net food importing countries.
Model 1, although counterintuitive, provided very interesting results. Model 1 included the independent variable for food price index and when tested in the model had a negative effect on the number of political unrest events. This could be explained in several ways; first, the food price index is equally applied to all countries across the globe, therefore, when comparing a single year at one price, it would not be expected to incite political unrest. Second, most of the countries in the sample have primarily rural populations, and as per my theory, when food prices increase, the wages for those employed in the agricultural sector increase as well. In this case political unrest would be unexpected. As wages increase, the population has a larger income and is then able to cope with rising food prices and when prices spike, feel the effects less than those with lower incomes. Not until I included a variable for change in food prices was my hypotheses confirmed.
Most of the literature in this area addresses civil wars and although civil war is extremely important to understand, events of political violence/unrest are far more frequent. Understanding what creates these lower level events of political unrest can be beneficial to understanding how they escalate to higher levels. This research aims at bridging the gap in the existing literature by providing insight as to what creates lower level political unrest. The implications of my research show the types of situations that contribute to an increase in political unrest.
In future iterations of this paper, I aim to include a more effective measure of food prices. Using the food price index on a yearly basis may not be the best choice for this research. I will include a measure of food prices based on actual prices of food measured in dollars per ton. Furthermore, this paper uses the country-year as the unit of analysis for all of the variables. Future work would be improved by using country-month as the unit of analysis. A more accurate interpretation of the effect of events could be attained by observing each country on a monthly basis because the monthly food price changes could be used and compared to the number of political unrest events per month. This may be difficult because the databases that are currently used for this project publish only annual data. I believe that future work in obtaining more data at lower levels of analysis could prove beneficial not only to this research but for the political science community as a whole.
This research could provide insight for policymakers, researchers in the sub-field, and political scientists alike. Policymakers could use the findings in this research to aid in the decision making process when it comes to events of political unrest.