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The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East

15 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2011  

Marco Lagi

New England Complex Systems Institute

Karla Z. Bertrand

New England Complex Systems Institute

Yaneer Bar-Yam

New England Complex Systems Institute

Date Written: August 15, 2011

Abstract

Social unrest may reflect a variety of factors such as poverty, unemployment, and social injustice. Despite the many possible contributing factors, 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. We identify a specific food price threshold above which protests become likely. These observations suggest that protests may reflect not only long-standing political failings of governments, but also the sudden desperate straits of vulnerable populations. If food prices remain high, there is likely to be persistent and increasing global social disruption. Underlying the food price peaks we also find an ongoing trend of increasing prices. We extrapolate these trends and identify a crossing point to the domain of high impacts, even without price peaks, in 2012-2013. This implies that avoiding global food crises and associated social unrest requires rapid and concerted action.

Keywords: food, food prices, unrest, riots, commodities, speculation, ethanol, Arab Spring

Suggested Citation

Lagi, Marco and Bertrand, Karla Z. and Bar-Yam, Yaneer, The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East (August 15, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1910031 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1910031

Marco Lagi (Contact Author)

New England Complex Systems Institute ( email )

24 Mt. Auburn St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Karla Z. Bertrand

New England Complex Systems Institute ( email )

24 Mt. Auburn St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Yaneer Bar-Yam

New England Complex Systems Institute ( email )

24 Mt. Auburn St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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