Can Latvia grow its buckwheat and eat it too?

Buckwheat has become a product of strategic importance in times of great unknowns – store shelves were quickly emptied at the beginning of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Though Latvia grows buckwheat, in shops, the country of origin is usually indicated as someplace else. Latvian Television's 4.studija aired on June 9 sought why.

Buckwheat is versatile (see pandemic-time recipes for popcorn and soup) and in a pinch can achieve a stage of edibility without thermal processing. Demand is rising, and so are the prices. This year, farmers have increased the area of buckwheat farming, but Latvia does not have a proper processing plant.

Ministry of Agriculture representative Zigmārs Ķikāns said: “We see prices also rising and consequently farmers' interest in growing buckwheat rises, and buckwheat area increased, both in 2020 and 2021 and what we can see this year.”

Last year, the buckwheat area was 20 thousand hectares, 28 thousand hectares this year. In addition, buckwheat is one of the easiest crops to grow, and the process is environmentally friendly and ecological.

The main problem is that Latvian buckwheat travels to the processing plants in neighboring countries, as Latvia does not have one. Kristaps Amsils, Chairman of the board of the Dobele miller company, said: “Our principle is that we purchase buckwheat from our suppliers, farmers, and we bring buckwheat to our cooperation representatives in Lithuania. There has historically been more than just one buckwheat processing line, and it is likely that the processing of these products was not profitable at the time or the amount was not enough to be able to produce effectively, and unfortunately, this buckwheat processing has disappeared at a fully industrial level as time passed."

The buckwheat as if returns to Latvia, however, we can read on the packages on the shelves that they already have another country of origin because they are not processed locally.

“As Latvian grains are transported to Lithuania, Latvia's buckwheat returns as Lithuanian, but in the shops, as we can see, there is available buckwheat of Kazakhstan's origin, Lithuania, even from Russia,” Amsils pointed out.

Farmers addressed by LTV said that Latvia is able to grow enough buckwheat for all residents. In some places, there are small buckwheat processing plants in Latvia, but they are able to supply a very small section of the market.

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