Spurred by interest in the health benefits of this ancient grain, there's been much talk about the commodification of quinoa and the impact on food security in quinoa growing regions. That's why I recently sat in on a conference call with quinoa farmers, academics and representatives of Alter Eco—one of the pioneers of the fair trade quinoa market—to discuss whether the quinoa boom can be managed responsibly.
Whatever your views on international trade versus localism, advocates for quinoa farmers suggest that laying the blame for food security issues on the growth of quinoa alone is a gross oversimplification of a complex global problem. Food security issues are occurring everywhere. And many farmers and farming communities are reportedly now growing more quinoa for personal consumption than they ever have before.
Here's how Edouard Rollet, co-founder of Alter Eco put it:
“Giving the poorest of the poor in Latin America — farmers that grow quinoa — access to income or "protecting" this region from globalization, is a false choice. It's up to everyone involved, especially companies, to determine if they will operate in a way that fairly benefits those at quinoa's origin — or if they will operate business as usual.”
For hardcore locavores and bioregionalists, the idea of imported quinoa as a staple of the Western diet is probably an anathema. Yet we live in a Globalized world, where poor farmers often have little choice but to engage with the international markets. Responsible access to these markets can be used to encourage soil conservation, community development and resilience. And as long as that world continues to exist, high value, dry grains like quinoa are, in many ways, an ideal product for global trade—given their suitability for long-term storage and overland, low carbon shipping options. (Fair trade and a return to sail power would be a powerful combination!)
My full post on the potential for a responsible approach to the quinoa market can be found over at MNN.