Quinoa is the latest fad, and has popped up in our supermarket isles and health food stores over the last few years. It’s delicious and nutritious, and working out how to pronounce it seems to be half the fun (“kin-wah”, for those of you wondering).
It is a super food, with NASA proposing to use it for astronauts on long space flights because of its nutritional value, and is a great source of protein for our non-meat eating friends out there.
It has had a pretty exciting run in the media over the last few years, and a quick Google search reveals plenty of newspaper articles and blogs about the possible negative effects of the quinoa industry boom on the regions where it is grown.
The grain is a major staple food in both Bolivia and Peru, where it is now primarily being produced for export. Since the demand for quinoa has exploded in various developed countries, the price of the crop has been pushed through the roof. Now as expensive as meat, quinoa has soared beyond the reach of the poor populations throughout Bolivia and Peru.
Some blog writers call for consumers to stop buying quinoa altogether in an attempt to bring the price back down to affordable levels for the Bolivian and Peruvian poor. Others point out that the quinoa farmers have gained a lot of wealth and status from the boom.
According to a study conducted by anthropologist John Brett, the quinoa export market has really increased the income of only a small segment of the farming economy, while reducing the food security for the whole country.
Keep in mind Bolivia receives much needed food aid from developed countries that are themselves the primary importers of quinoa. It does seem a bit illogical for Bolivia to export a local, nutritious crop to make money, while receiving food aid in the form of much less nutritious white flour.
So are we damned if we do, damned if we don’t? It would seem like some South Americans farmers are getting a much needed economic booster through quinoa. Meanwhile the poorest parts of the population are paying the price – or not paying it and eating white flour products instead.
So what’s the answer? If you don’t really like quinoa, don’t buy it. If you’re already addicted, just think of that small section of the Bolivian and Peruvian population that you are actually helping out!