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Prices Rise, But Will Food Riots Follow?

June 6, 2014
By: Nate Birt, Top Producer Deputy Managing Editor google + 
WEB FoodRiotsMap TheWorldBankGroup
A variety of food riots have occurred since the international food crisis of 2007. Type 1 riots (dark blue) are primarily motivated by food inflation, while Type 2 riots (light blue) are largely motivated by severe shortages. Light green reflects both.  

Global food prices have increased 4% this year, marking the first time such an increase has occurred since August 2012, a new report from The World Bank Group shows. While the figure raises the possibility of food insecurity, the report says, the real message is that researchers must go beyond cost when defining food insecurity in order to keep U.S. farmers and other stakeholders informed.

"Monitoring food prices responds not only to food security and welfare interests, but also to serious political instability and conflict motivations," concludes the report, which looks at trends from January to April. "As a result, a proper monitoring constitutes a first step in addressing the interactions between food insecurity and conflict."

Part of that monitoring requires an examination of how severe weather affects crops such as wheat.

"Continued dryness in the Southern Plains in the United States, as well as some earlier deterioration due to cold and dryness in the Great Plains, are growing concerns," notes The World Bank Group, which provides financial and technical assistance to developing countries. Localized weather problems also have been reported in places such as the Black Sea region, the European Union and Canada.

Beyond weather, import demand is pushing prices higher. China is the largest demand base for wheat, and regions such as North Africa and the Middle East are also key players. Demand for corn grown in the U.S., Ukraine and Russia is coming from China, the EU, Egypt, Iran and Algeria.

Those factors and others can result in food scarcity, particularly in developing nations, and lay the groundwork for violence. For example, dozens of violent clashes happened from 2007-08 amid food price hikes, affecting countries such as Argentina, Cameroon, Haiti and India.

Food Riots Chart TheWorldBankGrou

But the definition of food riots isn’t clear cut, the report says. Some recent research is incomplete because it includes conflicts likely not connected with food; only counts incidents involving deaths; limits findings to a single region; or highlights a short time period.

The report suggests a new definition: " A violent, collective unrest leading to a loss of control, bodily harm or damage to property, essentially motivated by a lack of food availability, accessibility or affordability, as reported by the international and local media, and which may include other underlying causes of discontent."

In the end, the report says, that definition will help researchers keep better track of food prices and conflict. That’s because it expands the focus on reduced agricultural production and displacement of people to include instability and conflict.

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