A report published in October 2012 by the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) links soaring corn and agricultural commodity prices to food riots and turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East.
Although several factors may contribute to political unrest, acknowledge Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam and two co-authors, “the timing of violent protests in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 as well as earlier riots in 2008 coincides with large peaks in global food prices.” In poor countries with little or no local agriculture to “buffer” swings in global supply conditions, the central government “may be perceived to have a critical role in food security. Failure to provide security undermines the very reason for existence of the political system.”
When the ability of the political system to provide security for the population breaks down, popular support disappears. Conditions of widespread threat to security are particularly present when food is inaccessible to the population at large.
Soaring food prices triggered food riots in both 2008 and 2011.
Figure explanation (references omitted): Time dependence of FAO Food Price Index from January 2004 to May 2011. Red dashed vertical lines correspond to beginning dates of “food riots” and protests associated with the major recent unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. The overall death toll is reported in parentheses. Blue vertical line indicates the date, December 13, 2010, on which Dr. Bar-Yam and colleagues submitted a report to the U.S. government, warning of the link between food prices, social unrest and political instability. Inset shows FAO Food Price Index from 1990 to 2011. [click to continue…]