Food Riots and Food Rights: the Moral and Political Economy of Accountability for Hunger in Kenya
IDS Working Paper 461
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The green revolution and the global integration of food markets were supposed to relegate scarcity to the annals of history. So why did thousands of people in dozens of countries take to the streets when world food prices spiked in 2008 and 2011?
Are food riots the surest route to securing the right to food in the twenty-first century? We know that historically, food riots marked moments of crisis in the adjustment to more market-oriented or capitalist food and economic systems. Food riots featured as part of a politics of provisions that helped hold public authorities to account for protecting people during price spikes or shortages.
This research project interrogated this contemporary moment of historical rupture in the global food system through comparative analysis of Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Mozambique in the period 2007–12. This was a period of intensely volatile food prices as well as unusual levels of food-related popular mobilisation – unruly political events like riots but also more organised action like the Right to Food movement in India.
During the global food crisis of 2007–8 alone, food riots (or subsistence protests) were reported in 30 countries. In many, including the four in our study, the food crisis triggered changes in domestic food security arrangements. Working with multiple methods and at different levels with media content, with activists and protesters, and with policy and political elites, this research asked: What motivated people to mobilise around food? And did popular mobilisation effect or influence such changes?