In the Western world, headlines have been made by millions of average Joes lining up to buy innumerable rolls of toilet paper for the pending coronavirus apocalypse. In Russia, they’re queueing up for something else – buckwheat.
In times of panic, it’s only natural that people revert to the stuff they know best, and when it comes to hoarding food for an epidemic, the Russians have settled on a dependable crop which has been with them through centuries of struggle.
In certain quarters, the rise in demand for buckwheat has caused some worry that supply might run out, so the government has decided to do something about it. Russia has temporarily restricted the export of various types of cereals and grains as a response to the increased demand caused by the novel coronavirus. The ban, which has been introduced for just ten days, was implemented under instruction from the State Council’s special working group for fighting Covid-19.
A statement released by Rosselkhoznadzor, the government body responsible for regulating much of Russia’s agriculture, released a statement explaining that the ban would remain in place from March 20 until March 30.
Reports over the last fortnight have indicated that grains – and especially buckwheat – are some of the most hoarded foods during the coronavirus pandemic. Photos posted online by Russian social media users have shown buckwheat shelves completely empty. According to Nielsen, demand jumped up 27.8 percent in early March.
Last week, news agency TASS reported that the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) had received several complaints about increased pricing of “socially significant products,” such as buckwheat, sugar, and flour. According to RBC, the increase in prices can be explained by two reasons: coronavirus-related panic buying at the beginning of March, and the increased cost of imported grains due to the performance of the ruble against the dollar. Since the beginning of the year, the ruble has lost 20 percent of its value.
Deputy Prime Minister Victoria Abramchenko assured that despite the coronavirus pandemic, there is no shortage of any type of food, and any panic about lack of supply is unjustified.
“For example, buckwheat is a favorite product of Russians over the past few days. There is enough for everyone. Altai Territory will be able to provide the country with buckwheat, and as of now, it has reserves of over 350 thousand tons,” Abramchenko explained.
Although Russia’s buckwheat export numbers are small, the country sells a significant amount of rice to foreign countries, in particular Turkey and the former Soviet Union. Rice is also included in the export ban.