Quinoa's Popularity Boon (& Bust) for Bolivia

quinoa photo

Photo: Flickr/nerissa's ring

I'm happy to have read beyond Yahoo News' deceptively positive headline, "Quinoa's popularity boon to Bolivians." I've had an interest in the ancient Andean super grain since it hit the health scene for its amino-acid- and mineral-richness. Simply put, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says it is so nutrient dense it can be substituted for mother's milk. (Whoa is right.)

After reading the article, I learned of the grains strong likeness to the acai situation-- and that of any other exotic product from a developing country to hit the market in developed countries. Popularity could mean an immediate boon the producing locale (in this case Bolivia), but it could also mean long-term social and environmental consequence.That is, if the governments allow large-scale producers to operate unsustainably and pay unfair wages to farmers. With Bolivia as impoverished as it is, it's hard to blame the country for wanting to quickly whip out and cash in on quinoa, and "First World foodies" like us, as the article cleverly puts it, are devouring. Yahoo reports,

President Evo Morales' government has deemed quinoa a "strategic" foodstuff, essential to this poverty-afflicted nation's food security. It is promoting the grain and has included quinoa in a subsidized food parcel for pregnant women.

Quinoa is Healthy For Us, But Will it Remain Healthy For Bolivia?
And according to Yahoo's sources, the wholesale price has increased sevenfold since 2000 thanks to Developed World consumer demand. In fact, the demand is so big that 90 percent of Bolivia's quinoa is exported leaving only 10 percent within country borders. Unfortunately, these increased prices are also effecting some Bolivian locals. Walter Severo, president of a quinoa producer's group in southwest Bolivia said,

Some local children are showing signs of malnutrition because their parents have substituted rice and noodles for quinoa in the family diet.

Francisco Quisbert, a Bolivian indigenous leader is quoted saying,

The soils are tired and need nutrition. Production is dropping.

What it sounds it like to me, is that we New World and "First World foodies" must remain diligent in supporting the right quinoa producer to make sure its popularity does in fact, remain a "boon" for Bolivia -- and other quinoa producing countries like Peru -- in the long-term.

Think: small-farmer produced, fairly traded, and coupled with traditional, organic farming methods. My favorite is the Alter Eco brand which hits the mark on all of these.

More on Quinoa:
Inca Organics and Quinoa--The Mother Grain
On Moving Toward Vegetarianism: Getting the Protein You Need
The Thanksgiving Challenge, DIY Dog Toys and Tasty Quinoa Cakes

Related Content on Treehugger.com