A hat tip once again to colleague David Parr for this piece on buckwheat prices. As Russia comes to term with falling oil prices, a depreciating rouble, high inflation and sanctions over the Ukrainian crisis there is one other indicator that is worth a mention – buckwheat prices.
Buckwheat is seen as part of the Russian staple diet and can be eaten with any meal in Russia – porridge, served with liver, stuffed inside a roast piglet. It was when rumours started that buckwheat supplies were running low that shoppers rushed out to supermarkets to fill their trolleys. A drought in Russia reduced the buckwheat harvest from 700,000 tonnes to under 600,000 tonnes but this could hardly cause the rapid increase in prices. However media reports were enough to act as a catalyst for panic buying amongst consumers -it took only four days for the town of Penza to be stripped of buckwheat stocks which normally last for two months. In Moscow buckwheat rose from around 30 rubbles to 50 rubbles. Furthermore with the introduction of Western sanctions people are starting to stock pile buckwheat as they are unsure of what will eventuate. It is estimated that over a third of the population have stocked up on buckwheat over the last month.
It seems that buckwheat is a sacred food for Russians and it tends to be in very short supply when there is any sign of crisis in the economy. But it is not just buckwheat which has increased in price. There has been a 30-40% increase in basic foods such as eggs, fish chicken, and sausages as Russia enforces retaliatory embargo banning Western food imports.