Less democratic governments have been more likely to resort to food export bans since Russia invaded Ukraine

June 8, 2022

Russia's war in Ukraine has led to worldwide food shortages, compelling several governments to ban food exports to curb rising prices at home. Twenty-three countries, including major wheat and vegetable oil producers, have banned or limited exports of these products. These regimes have tended to be more authoritarian and, apart from Argentina and Ghana, are not widely considered democracies.

Export bans disrupt the global food system, increasing price volatility. In the long term, they encourage trading partners to look elsewhere for food imports and discourage domestic farmers from producing more food because they are deprived of global markets.

In a paradox, export curbs have become popular political tools for authoritarian regimes, which fear antagonizing impoverished urban populations. In effect, export bans transfer profits from the rural sector to subsidize urban consumers.

In democratic systems, on the other hand, urban residents and rural populations have a political voice at the ballot box. In times of high food prices, democratic leaders must balance consumer interests with the potential benefits for the rural food producers. This phenomenon is reflected in the far fewer blue countries on the right side of the graphic.

Ukraine's trading partners may excuse its export ban given the havoc Russia's invasion has wrought on domestic production and distribution. But for Russia, which has also limited food exports, trading partners may be less forgiving.

This PIIE Chart is based on Cullen S. Hendrix's blog post, Authoritarian leaders are turning to food export bans amid war in Ukraine.

Produced and designed by Nia Kitchin and Oliver Ward.

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Cullen S. Hendrix Senior Research Staff

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