In recent years, the nutrient-rich superfood – quinoa – has emerged as a strong competitor for space on grocery shelves. Though the nutty grain certainly has its place in high-end grocery stores such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, few consumers know that quinoa’s popularity boom has been critical in alleviating poverty for farmers in Latin America.
Quinoa is native to the Andean region of South America, and is known there as the “mother of all grains.” The hardy plant thrives there despite extreme altitude and high-risk climate conditions. It has been shown that quinoa can also thrive in a variety of Asian, North American and European climates – though none of these have seen the benefits as much as Latin America.
Countries such as Ecuador and Peru are some of the top exporters of quinoa, which is grown primarily by small-scale farmers in mountainous regions. As the grain has gained popularity and reputation as a superfood, farmers in these lower-income regions have seen a higher demand for their production. In such a reliable market, growing quinoa helps previously vulnerable Latin American farmers achieve a more steady income. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has declared quinoa a key component in global food security, for both present and future generations.
In Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador – the three major Latin American exporters of quinoa – the area of land set aside for quinoa cultivation has more than doubled within the last 30 years. Imports to the U.S. from Latin America hover around an astounding £70 million annually. Not only have Latin American nations started selling more quinoa to high-income nations, but they have started selling it at a far steeper price. In between the years 2006 and 2013, the price of quinoa around the globe tripled. Such a lucrative market is clearly beneficial for farmers in these areas of the world.
Historically, demand for raw goods like quinoa has led to the exploitation of low-income countries and only corporate interests have seen real benefits. However, studies have proven that this is not currently the case. The rural region of Puno, where 80 percent of Peru’s quinoa comes from, has seen enormous economic growth and improved welfare as a result of the superfood craze. Not only that, but despite the dramatic price increases, studies have found that people living in communities where quinoa is part of the traditional diet can still afford to eat the grain at similar or even higher rates.
In Puno, households cut back on less nutritious, high-fat foods in order to accommodate the price increases on quinoa; as a result, their health improved. The health benefits of quinoa serve to empower rural poor in Latin America, as well as other impoverished regions around the world. Bolivia declared 2013 the “Year of Quinoa” because the sustainably-grown grain is incredibly nutritious. Quinoa is the only plant food containing all essential amino acids, vitamins, trace elements and no gluten, making it the perfect base for an affordable, nutritious diet. It is also high in fiber and lysine.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has declared quinoa a key component in global food security, both currently and in the future. As Latin America maintains a strong monopoly on quinoa, it is increasingly helping its farmers live healthily and sustainably – and will surely continue for years to come.
– Kailey Dubinsky