World Economy

Buckwheat Panic Grips Russians as Sanctions Bite

Buckwheat Panic Grips Russians as Sanctions BiteBuckwheat Panic Grips Russians as Sanctions Bite

With its warm, fluffy brown grains, buckwheat is the ultimate comfort food for Russians and as sanctions hit home, it is flying off the shelves in a shopping frenzy dubbed the “buckwheat panic”.

Hard-hit by falling oil prices and western economic sanctions imposed over the Kremlin’s role in the Ukrainian crisis, Russia is seeing a catastrophic depreciation of the ruble and steep inflation, AFP reported.

But while Russians grumble about the rising price of chicken, cheese or sausage, it was only when rumors spread of buckwheat supplies running low that shoppers dashed out to fill their trolleys.

Buckwheat “is not just a food, it is a national idea,” Russia’s leading business daily, Vedomosti, wrote recently in an editorial.

While in the West, buckwheat is more seen as a trendy food for the health conscious, in Russia it is a traditional staple, predating potatoes.

The cereal, which originates from India and Nepal, was first introduced to the Russians in the 13th century by the Mongol invaders. It was cultivated by Byzantine monks, leading to its name in Russian of “grechka,” which sounds like Greek.

This autumn as Russians began to feel the effects of sanctions and the retaliatory embargo on most Western foods ordered by President Vladimir Putin, news spread of a low harvest in Russia’s buckwheat heartland – the Altai region in Siberia.

Due to a drought, Russia’s buckwheat harvest fell this year to just under 600,000 tons, against the usual 700,000 tons.

  Purchase Spree

That was hardly a disaster, but media reports were enough to spark panic demand among consumers with people storming shops across several regions.

“In Moscow, people see a television news report about a buckwheat crisis in Penza”, a city 600 kilometers away, and “in just four days they buy up buckwheat stocks that would normally be enough for two months,” the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily wrote.

One supermarket chain in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg even introduced a five-pack limit for buckwheat purchases.

Even though buckwheat is homegrown and so little affected by sanctions or the falling ruble, the price of a packet of buckwheat rose from around 30 rubles to 50 rubles ($0.93) in Moscow and doubled in some regions.

A survey conducted in late November by the Levada Center pollster found that almost a third of the Russians had stocked up on buckwheat in recent weeks.