Why food security and conflict may not be linked

Food prices go up and people revolt, right? Maybe not.

Conflict does lead to food insecurity. That makes sense because broken markets means it is harder and more expensive to get food. But what about whether high prices cause conflict. Do people protest and conflict follows because food is too expensive?

“It seems to me the food security linkage suffers from the same problem that an awful lot of the environment and conflict literature suffers from: There are more negative cases than positive cases,” said Ed Carr of the University of South Carolina to the Wilson Center’s New Security Beat podcast. “In other words, you have a lot of cases where there is a [food]price spike and no violence or no conflict.”

When it comes to conflict, food security could contribute to problems as might other factors. Carr argues that a focus on food may be misplaced if it not a main cause.

“If it’s that far down the line, is this something that USAID or any other donor organization should be looking at, or should they be dealing with the first six problems?” asks Carr.

He does not say that food security is definitely not a leading contributor to conflict, rather he questions the available research that makes such claims.

Listen to the full conversation below:


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.

  • Todd Smith

    I agree that food prices alone are rarely if ever the sole cause of conflict. Grievances related to more structural political injustices or economic inequalities are generally the underlying driver. But using very careful econometric techniques to deal with the endogoneity between food prices and social unrest, my research suggests that in Africa food price spikes are at least a trigger of social unrest of all types. https://www.sugarsync.com/pf/D6416858_2447605_6840909