09 January 2011

Quinoa article in Wash Post and NPR

EDIT: This article was in fact written by the AP and is no longer available on the Washington Post website. NPR's link to the story is still working here.

This past week the Washington Post published an article on the impact of quinoa commercialization in Bolivia and I suppose it's worth a read.  It greatly simplifies the impacts, overestimates the negative impact on child nutrition, and overstates the 'tradition' of quinoa, but it's still interesting.  I suppose I can't expect the author to cover all the ground in just one newspaper article, but I also suspect that the story has been dramatized a little bit.

You can read the article in full here or an excerpt below.


Quinoa's popularity boon to Bolivians
By CARLOS VALDEZ and FRANK BAJAK
The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 4, 2011; 12:55 PM
CARACOLLO, Bolivia -- It's as inhospitable as climates come for crop cultivation, the dry and rocky soils of Bolivia's semiarid altiplain. Miguel Choque can see his breath as surveys his fields of quinoa, the Andean "supergrain."
In late March or April, the flowering plants will paint the rugged landscape yellow, green and red. Their diminutive seed, which powered Inca armies only to be elbowed aside by the wheat preferred by colonizing Spaniards, is unmatched in nutritional value.
Quinoa's rising popularity among First World foodies - the wholesale price has jumped sevenfold since 2000 as global demand climbed - has been a boon to the poor farmers here in the semiarid highlands where most of it grows.
And that boom has transformed the lives of the largely subsistence farmers who grow it, though it remains unclear whether the large-scale commercial cultivation sought by Bolivia's government is environmentally sustainable in the altiplain- or even welcome by growers.
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.
Yet the higher prices quinoa is fetching have had an unanticipated impact where the grain is grown. Some local children are showing signs of malnutrition because their parents have substituted rice and noodles for quinoa in the family diet, said Walter Severo, president of a quinoa producer's group in southwest Bolivia.
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"Only 10 percent of it stays in Bolivia. The other 90 percent gets exported," says Rural Development Minister Nemecia Achacollo.
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) provides 10 essential amino acids, is loaded with minerals and has a high protein content - between 14 and 18 percent. The FAO (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization) says it is so nutritious it can be substituted for mother's milk.
"This food is about the most perfect you can find for human diets," said Duane Johnson, a 61-year-old former Colorado State agronomist who helped introduce it to the United States three decades ago.
Quinoa isn't a cereal. It's a seed that is eaten like a grain, but is gluten-free and more easily digestible than corn, wheat, rye, millet and sorghum. And it can be substituted for rice in just about anything - from soup to salad to pudding to bread.
"I've got high-performance athletes that swear by it," said David Schnorr, president of Quinoa Corp., the largest U.S. importer. It's also being embraced by the increasing number of Americans with food allergies or celiac disease, an immunological rejection of gluten, a wheat protein. NASA researchers consider it ideal for inclusion in possible future long-term space missions when crops would need to be grown on spacecraft.
Quinoa has been cultivated in the Andean highlands since 3,000 B.C., and grows natively from Chile north to Colombia, mostly in Peru and Bolivia. The varieties of this region of southwestern Bolivia - at 3,700 meters (over 12,000 feet) - are resistant to the freezes and droughts that periodically afflict it.

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