Can Trade Liberalization in Agricultural Products Mitigate the Effect of Extreme Climatic Events on Social Unrest in Africa?
Abstract: There are multiple factors that coincided with the Arab Spring and are widely believed to have caused it. The spike in international food prices in late 2010 and early 2011 is one of these factors. Countries that saw more social unrest in 2011, and earlier in 2008, in Africa and the Middle East, are highly dependent on food imports, mainly due to their relatively low local food production that can be attributed to the frequent extreme climatic events. In this article, I examine whether experiencing a drought exacerbates the effect of the increase in food prices on urban and rural social unrest and whether liberalizing trade in staple foods mitigates this effect using a panel of 35 African countries, which covers the years 2000-2017. The main results of this article suggest that holding everything else constant, an increase in domestic food prices either has no significant impact on urban social unrest or a marginally positive one. In contrast, it reduces social unrest in rural areas. Furthermore, an increase in staple food prices while experiencing drought worsens the effect on urban social unrest and reduces the effect on rural social unrest relative to the effect in the absence of drought. Liberalizing trade in staple foods can mitigate this problem as it reduces the relationship between food price spikes and social unrest in both urban and rural areas. (JEL codes: D74, Q17, Q18, Q34, Q54)