The Bad Side Of Quinoa’s Popularity

I saw this news regarding quinoa and Bolivia in the New York Times. It was published yesterday. But, I just saw it today. Here’s the highlights from it:

When NASA scientists were searching decades ago for an ideal food for long-term human space missions, they came across an Andean plant called quinoa. With an exceptional balance of protein and amino acids, quinoa, they declared, is virtually unrivaled in the plant or animal kingdom for its life-sustaining nutrients.

But while Bolivians have lived off it for centuries, quinoa remained little more than a curiosity outside the Andes for years, found in health food shops and studied by researchers — until recently.

Now demand for quinoa (pronounced KEE-no-ah) is soaring in rich countries, as American and European consumers discover the “lost crop” of the Incas. The surge has helped raise farmers’ incomes here in one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. But there has been a notable trade-off: Fewer Bolivians can now afford it, hastening their embrace of cheaper, processed foods and raising fears of malnutrition in a country that has long struggled with it.

The shift offers a glimpse into the consequences of rising global food prices and changing eating habits in both prosperous and developing nations. While quinoa prices have almost tripled over the past five years, Bolivia’s consumption of the staple fell 34 percent over the same period, according to the country’s agricultural ministry.

The resulting quandary — local farmers earn more, but fewer Bolivians reap quinoa’s nutritional rewards — has nutritionists and public officials grasping for solutions.

“As it’s exported, quinoa is now very expensive,” said María Julia Cabrerizo, a nutritionist at the Hospital de Clínicas, a public hospital here. “It’s not a food of mass consumption, like noodles or rice.”

“I adore quinoa, but I can’t afford it anymore,” said Micaela Huanca, 50, a street vendor in El Alto, a city of slums above the capital, La Paz. “I look at it in the markets and walk away.”

Officials in President Evo Morales’s government say that changing food preferences and increased ability to buy processed foods also play a role.

“It has to do with food culture, because if you give the kids toasted quinoa flour, they don’t want it; they want white bread,” said Víctor Hugo Vásquez, vice minister of rural development and agriculture. “If you give them boiled water, sugar and quinoa flour mixed into a drink, they prefer Coca-Cola.”

The shift away from consuming quinoa in the cradle of its cultivation has alarmed some of the plant’s top marketers in the United States, where quinoa is increasingly coveted by health-conscious consumers.

“It’s kind of discouraging to see stuff like this happen, but that’s part of life and economics,” said David Schnorr, the president of the Quinoa Corporation of Los Angeles, one of the largest importers of quinoa in the United States, which has worked with Bolivian producers since the 1980s.

Mr. Schnorr said quinoa’s climbing prices in the United States were raising other concerns as well. “At $5 a box, only so many people can afford that,” he said, adding that he would prefer a price about half that amount. “I’ve always been an advocate of expanding the market, keeping the prices to a point where more people can try it.”

About nine weeks ago, I shared some information on quinoa here.  At that point, I never had it.  But, since then I’ve eaten it several times and enjoy it. Related, this news is disturbing. I wish there was a way to have prevented this from happening – and that there was a way to stop it now. I just hate it when letting the genie out of the bottle ends up with negative consequences.

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One Response to The Bad Side Of Quinoa’s Popularity

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