Quinoa complexities described

By Nicholas Bostick

New Media Editor


Cicero said, “The diligent farmer plants trees, of which he himself will never see the fruit.”

For the Andean quinoa farmers of the altiplano region of South America, this is only a half-truth.

For the whole picture of America’s love affair with the ancient “Mother Grain” of the Incas, you have to go back in time.

Quinoa has been growing on Earth for at least 7,000 years. If you asked someone about it 10 years ago, however, you’d be treated with an assortment of blank stares and shrugs. Why should they care, you ask? Quinoa is quite possibly the key to solving world hunger.

I don’t mean to give quinoa an air of mysticism, but it is pretty fantastic.

High crop yields can be achieved in temperatures as low as 17.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and quinoa can be adapted to almost any kind of soil, according to a presentation from Biodiversity International. In November 1993, NASA released a 14-page document extolling the virtues of quinoa as astronaut food.

Furthermore, varieties of quinoa have as much as 18.39 percent protein, similar foods, such as millet, are only around 11 percent protein, according to skipthepie.org.

Quinoa also has a full contingent of amino acids, proteins the body is incapable of creating that are necessary for sustaining life.

A few places, such as White Mountain Farm in Colorado, saw the potential of quinoa.

As reported by Alastair Bland of National Public Radio, White Mountain Farm started growing the chenopod (a relative of the goosefoot plant) in 1987. Only in the past seven years, however, has the demand for quinoa started to grow in areas outside of Bolivia and Peru.

These two countries exported more than 80,000 metric tons of quinoa in 2011. Royal Quinoa, a variety popular in North America, accounted for more than 90 percent of all Bolivian exports in 2011. Sixty-four percent of Peruvian quinoa exports went straight to the U.S. that same year, according to Gail Nickel-Kailing in an article for goodfoodworld.com.

This brings up the current issue. The farmers who have been growing quinoa all their lives are making more money than ever before. A lot more money.

In an interview with National Public Radio, quinoa farmer Ernesto Choquetopa said: “Before, people didn’t go to study. They were born, they grew up, and that was it. They went on to herd sheep and llamas. Nothing more.”

Now the children of these family farmers are going to school. For the first time in generations, these families are able to envision a future that doesn’t involve quinoa. That’s not the only first resulting from this surge of money.

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky discusses these consequences in an article for time.com. Families who grew only what they needed traditionally farmed the land of the altiplano, but with the moneymaking potential of quinoa, that is changing.

Farms are getting larger, and disputes between neighbors are increasing.

One clash occurred in March last year, when two towns fought for the right to grow quinoa on a disputed tract of land. The conflict involved sticks and grenades and left 34 people injured.

The Economist published an article detailing another dispute in February 2012, which led to four kidnappings, left dozens injured and one man armless.

The whole picture of quinoa is vast, complex and would take too long to fully discuss; maybe that’s why people don’t take the time to investigate the history.

The issues of bio-piracy and the eroding environment of the altiplano haven’t even been touched here, but that doesn’t make every bite of quinoa we take any less tainted with complexities of both flavor and politics.