Global Demand for Quinoa Takes Toll on Andean Farmers and Consumers


Varieties of Peruvian quinoa. Photo posted by ApegaPerú on flickr and used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

Quinoa has captured the attention of consumers from around the world, but the growing international demand has caused problems in local consumption in the Andean countries where it is produced, additionally affecting poor populations who used to consume it regularly.

The year 2013 was declared as the ‘International Year of Quinoa’ by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). FAO additionally named [es] Nadine Heredia, wife of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, as special ambassador for the International year of Quinoa, together with Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia.

This declaration by the FAO is a recognition [es] of the great nutritional value of quinoa, a pseudocereal originating from the Andean region of South America which contains eight basic amino acids for human nutrition; in addition to proteins, carbohydrates, and minerals, it is relatively low in fats.

These nutritional qualities have, little by little, made the rest of the world interested in this ancestral Andean product. From rather low levels [es] of exportation a few years ago, Peru, the second world producer of quinoa, exported [es] 7,600 tons in the year 2012, from a production [es] of 43,600 tons; while Bolivia, the first world producer [es] of quinoa, exported [es] some 26,000 tons of its total production which was a little more than 44,000 tons.

The Peruvian gastronomic boom has also contributed to the spread of quinoa on a global scale, since several typical Peruvian and international dishes have been reinterpreted [es] by chefs using quinoa. It's use, which before was not very widespread outside of Andean homes, has arrived in force [es] to gourmet restaurants in Lima.

The following promotional video (with English subtitles), produced by FAO and uploaded to YouTube, explains more about quinoa:

However, this promising panorama has its negative side: the international demand for quinoa, which causes Bolivia to dedicate more than 50% of its quinoa production to exportation, has caused prices within the domestic market to rise and therefore is now not accessible [es] to the poorest populations.

The level of unsatisfied international demand [es] for quinoa is also currently causing the United States and Chile to research its cultivation in non-Andean lands.

With regard to this issue, in the blog All about Quinoa they republish an article by the anthropologist Mauricio Mamani Pocoaca which previously appeared in Bolivian newspapers, where he says [es] that in this time of globalization farmers must adapt to agricultural production chains or resign themselves to losing their crop lands. Mamani adds that the hope for income from exportation is a fallacy:

Habrá muchos pedidos desde el exterior y los países andinos no podrán responder; entonces los países industrializados producirán con alta tecnología y con fines industriales. Los subproductos de la quinua llegará desde el exterior a nuestro país, en enlatados, en sobre, en diferentes preparados, con conservantes. Nuestra quinua formará parte de la comida chatarra y nosotros seremos los consumidores dependientes: razón por la que lloran los campesinos en silencio y saben que, en el futuro, nunca más serán los dueños de la semilla de quinua y además están conscientes que, en el futuro desaparecerán algunas variedades que desde su origen, tuvieron distintas aplicaciones en su uso. Antes de la época de la siembra, todos los años comprarán a comerciantes (semillas transgénicas) con el denominativo de “semilla certificada”.

There will be many requests from overseas and the Andean countries won't be able to respond; so industrialized countries will produce with high tech equipment and by industrial means. Quinoa subproducts will come from overseas to our country, in cans, in envelopes, in different preparations, with preservatives. Our quinoa will form part of fast food and we will be dependent consumers: this is the reason why farmers are crying in silence and know that, in the future, they will no longer be the owners of the quinoa seed and they are also aware that, in the future, some varieties that were originally used differently will disappear. Before the time of sowing, every year they will buy will buy transgenic seeds with the name “certified seed” from businessmen.

In the same blog post, Rubén Miranda writes in response:

Lo mejor sería que el productor además de venderla la consuma mucho más, el intermediario pague y venda a un precio justo el grano adquirido y las empresas beneficiadores y transformadoras inviertan en el mercado nacional y también la exporten porque deben recuperar sus inversiones, además de mejor sus procesos.

De quien dependa que las variedades no se pierdan, de los mismos productores, de quien depende conscientizar sobre evitar las semilla transgenicas […] (d)e todos nosotros, los interesados en mantener nuestra variabilidad genética.

The best thing would be for the producer, in addition to selling it, to consume it much more. The middleman should pay and sell the acquired crop at a fair price and benefited and transformed businesses should invest in the national market and should also export it because they must recover their investments, in addition to improving processes.

Not losing the varieties of seeds depends on the producers; raising awareness about avoiding transgenic seeds[…] depends on all of us, those of us who are interested in maintaining our genetic variability.

In the virtual magazine PuntoEdu from the Catholic University of Peru, the Peruvian anthropologist Carlos Eduardo Aramburú shares an article [es] which explores the dilemmas between the exportation boom [es] and the shortage for the domestic market. Aramburú explains that in a field study in Ayacucho and Puno he found that:

los pobladores han dejado de comer quinua porque prefieren exportarla y han reemplazado este alimento por los fideos que son más rápidos de cocinar y llenan pero tienen muy poco valor nutricional. En conclusión, tenemos el boom de la gastronomía en un país donde, si bien la malnutrición crónica infantil ha caído, todavía los índices de anemia son altos. No comemos menos pero si comemos mal

the people have stopped eating quinoa because they prefer to export it and they have replaced this food with noodles which are quicker to cook and fill you up but have very little nutritional value. In conclusion, we have the gastronomic boom in a country where, although chronic childhood malnutrition has decreased, anemia indexes are still high. We don't eat less but but we eat badly

Confirming the above, Peruvian areas with a traditionally high consumption of quinoa, like Puno, have reported a shortage of the product. The Peruvian Society of Environmental Law blog reports that this is worrying, since Puno has 80% of the quinoa production in Peru, and adds [es]:

desde julio la región Puno sufre de escasez de quinua, debido al incremento de la demanda en más de 143% entre los años 2008 y 2012. Otro factor sería la promoción que se le ha dado a este producto en mercados importantes como China.

since July the Puno region has suffered from a shortage of quinoa due to the increased demand of more than 143% between the years 2008 and 2012. Another factor may be the promotion this product has been given in important markets like China.

Some citizens complain about the rise in price of quinoa in Peru, where Bolivian quinoa can be cheaper [es] than Peruvian kind:

And that will lower the price? :) RT @Capital967: Peruvian Pride: They declare quinoa a flagship product

Half a kilo (about one pound) costs 10 soles ($3.60 US dollars) on average – the price of quinoa is through the roof at the markets

Thanks @NadineHeredia for promoting quinoa. And for making the price rise unbelievably!!! Thanks? #OkNo

Finally, the website Carro de Combate shares an article [es] about the risks of the quinoa boom:

Ninguna moda, por muy ecológica o sostenible que pueda parecer, está exenta de riesgo. El consumo masivo puede traer consigo desequilibrios para las comunidades locales e impactos ecológicos, incluso si la planta que se cultiva es el “alimento de los dioses”.

Nothing which is in style, no matter how ecological or sustainable it may appear, is exempt from risk. Mass consumption may bring with it an imbalance for local communities and ecological impacts, even if the plant which is cultivated is the “food of the gods.”

Original post published in the blog Globalizado [es] by Juan Arellano.


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