Friday, October 1, 2010


Russians are known for their "scarcity" syndrome which makes them hoard any commodity which is likely to become scarce in the market. The great shortage of salt that occurred three decades ago caused severe damage to the sewage drains because all salt stocks stored by the people during the shortage were flushed through the drains once salt availability eased! A similar situation is happening in that country to day because of the perceived scarcity of Buckwheat which is an important part of the diet for many people and every grain available is being siphoned off from the market by those who can afford to buy large quantities. The retail price ruling at about 50 cents a pound last year more than doubled this year making what ever is available in the market dearer.

Buckwheat is not a real wheat but it is considered some what more nutritious than the latter, being rich in high value protein (18%) but not gluten type and other nutrients like Iron, Zinc, Selenium and antioxidants like Rutin and Tannins. Russia is the leading producer accounting for more than 50% of world production. The unusual weather conditions that affected wheat production forcing the country to ban global exports, have also reduced the production of Buckwheat, creating a psychological fear about its availability. Looking back at history, unless the present government takes drastic measures to address the problem, uncontrolled unrest may still be a distinct possibility.

Unlike in the past there does not appear to be any let up from the Buckwheat shortage this year and the prevailing heat wave conditions, wide scale forest fires and extensive drought seem to be making the situation more grim for the Buckwheat supply. The familiar scenario of consumers, especially those belonging to the older generation, used to the daily diet from Buckwheat, trudging from one super market to another one in search of their staple continues to daunt the government and the matter is so serious that no less a person than the president of the country is visiting many provincial centers to personally assuage the feelings of the scared consumers, assuring immediate remedy to the situation. Government seems to have taken a stand that the shortage is not natural but artificially created by hoarders to hike up the market prices for financial gains. How far these "hoarders" would be able to thwart the credibility of the government remains to be seen.

Talking about hoarders, the natural question is about the identity of them because under the almost autocratic rule in Russia where punishment could be swift and severe for wrong doers, it is doubtful whether the traders would resort to cornering of stocks and naturally suspicion centers around the rich consumers who could have caused the present situation due to panic and apprehension. After all the production has fallen just by 30% and Buckwheat is not the main stream food, that role going to wheat. It is a historical truth that Russians had lived just on Potatoes during World War II and a small dip in production of a commodity like Buckwheat cannot be expected to impinge on the hunger or nutrition status of the population. But history has also recorded the bitter fact that even during the rule of the Czars, shortages of flour, sausage, table salt and Vodka had led to political unrest and probably the present rulers may also be worrying about the same.

The 2007 food riots in Asia and recent incidences in some parts of Africa are indicative of more frequent such episodes as a result of the demand for food outstripping production in many parts of the world and inflationary pressures that deny access to available foods in the market. Social unrests because of such imbalances in food sourcing can adversely affect world peace and the rich countries also will be sucked into the vortex of such developments.


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