Food Supply,  Innovation,  Sustainability

Quinoa Production Goes Global

By The Editors

There are at least two staple foods that The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) would like to see in our future: edible insects and quinoa. While it may take some time to see edible insects on the Western dinner tables, quinoa is already around, well-respected and well-adapted.

The FAO has officially declared that the year 2013 be recognized as “The International Year of the Quinoa.” A few days ago (August 12-14) the role that quinoa’s biodiversity and nutritional value plays in providing food security and nutrition and in the eradication of poverty, was discussed at the International Quinoa Research Symposium hosted by Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman, Washington.  The symposium featured presentations from quinoa experts from around the world and included, in addition to discussion and presentations of current research, hands-on demonstrations at area field trials.

WSU sponsored the symposium as partial result of funding received in 2012 by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. The grant will help develop adapted varieties and optimal management practices for quinoa production in diverse environmental conditions. The new acquired knowledge will be disseminated to Extension educators who can educate producers.

Flowering Quinoa Credit: Christian Guthier, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license
Flowering Quinoa
Credit: Christian Guthier, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Indeed, until about 15 years ago, quinoa was practically unknown outside of the Andean region of South America. Now, quinoa is a lucrative export crop and, as you may expect on the basis of FAO and USDA endorsement, is expected to go global.  However, during the symposium, agricultural researchers from different countries, including Egypt, Tibet, Denmark, France, Australia and others, reported not only stories of success but also stories of failures.

Many varieties of quinoa only grow well in the cool, dry, highlands of the Andes. Researchers are testing different varieties from the Andean countries to identify some that will grow well in different areas while, at the same time, produce a seed that people like. Because quinoa production is expected to go global, researchers are also finding ways to mass-produce this crop and harvest it with machines — because of the extremely variable maturity periods, quinoa is usually harvested by hand.

However, one of the major issues at the moment is that of fairness to the Andean farmers. During the conference, there was discussion of a potential solution: the creation of a special brand from quinoa produced in the Andean region, where indigenous peoples have preserved quinoa as food for present and future generations through ancestral practices of living in harmony with nature.

We’re looking forward to this (potential) new brand of Andean “soul food” and we hope this will be one of many steps implemented to protect what belongs to the Andean farmers.

One Comment

  • G Jose P-G

    I imagine if the quinoa can grow in a cool dry climate of the Andes, then maybe it would be able to grow in other similar high altitude conditions. This could give a possible form of nutrition for inhabitants of hard to reach mountain villages of the Zagros, Atlas, Ural, Himalayas and Carpathian mountain ranges, just to name a few locations.

    I imagine that that for secular or religious reasons, people call these mountains their homes. Obviously cultural preservation is going to make farming of quinoa unfavorable. Also the soil composition and climate patterns in different areas of the world are probably not going to be ideal for quinoa farming, but this form of farming could offer a form economical or nutritional relief.

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