The recent debate about the consumption of quinoa has been dismissed as a charicature of Guardian-eaters discussing the minutiae of ethical food faddism. It’s nothing of the sort, it really goes to the heart of food sovereignty – where we get our food from and why and on whose terms developing countries have to export a mainstay food crop.
The issue came to the fore with reporting that the importation was affecting people in South America such “That global demand means less quinoa is being eaten in Bolivia and Peru, the countries of origin, as the price has tripled.”
It was reported in the Guardian that “Three years ago, the pioneering Fife Diet, Europe’s biggest local food-eating project, sowed an experimental crop of quinoa. It failed, and the experiment has not been repeated” (‘Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?’ ). This isn’t true.
Our trials were a success, we examined which varieties and what soil conditions worked best.
We planted four varieties: Rainbow, Chilean, Temuco and Kaslala in one acre in northern Fife.
Temuco quinoa was by far the most productive of the four varieties with big heavy seedheads by the end of the season. Chilean came second and Rainbow and Kaslala a joint third. With early planting and a decent season quinoa can grow fine here in Scotland and we imagine through much of the UK. Quinoa does best in sandy, well-drained soils with a low nutrient content, moderate salinity, and a soil pH of 6 to 8.5. The challenge is not in growing but production.
Why all the fuss?
Not only is quinoa high in protein, but the protein it supplies is complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids. FAO has proclaimed 2013 as the International Year of the Quinoa. It has been recognised by the United Nations as a supercrop for its health benefits: packed with dietary fibre, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. It is also gluten-free and easy to digest. The facts suggest it is close to a perfect ingredient as you can get. If we are to look at ways of reducing meat consumption then quinoa is a great answer.
But how does it affect Bolivia?
Food activist Teresa Martinez has experience working in South America:
Quinoa has become one of the main agricultural exports in Boliva. Quinoa exports have increased from US $2.5 million to US $ 65 million. The environmental challenge lies in developing this industry using sustainable techniques and encouraging organic production through small scale holdings. Quinoa production is not intended for large monoculture plantations which will transform the land to deserts in a few years. The economic challenge is to guarantee a fair price for the farmers. Many farmers are returning from the city to their communities to grow Quinoa and the Bolivian government is investing in making sure that money is made not just from the production but from the processing and selling of Quinoa. Quinoa farmers only get US$ 1,60 per kg. The big profit is in the processing and selling. In the markets of Sao Paulo or Río de Janeiro, the price reaches US$ 30 for 1/2 kg. Finally, the social challenge is to manage the conflicts for the land that will inevitably arise as a result of Western demand. Buying from small-scale holdings and fair trade cooperatives is the way forward, stop consuming Quinoa or blaming vegans in the West is not the solution.
The debate so far has been polarised between vegan and meat-eater. We’d like to suggest that there’s good reason to reduce your meat consumption even if you are not committed to vegetarianism. We also would suggest that the magic-bullet presented by not eating meat in all cultures at all times in all places – doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. We’d also like to suggest that quinoa consumption can’t be laid at the door of vegans and vegetarians …
Our friends in Ireland had the same results, with Temuco coming out top. Madeline McKeever : “Like its relative Fat Hen, quinoa grows like a weed.” See their blog ‘Brown Envelope Seeds’ here for details and there efforts to process.
The answer we’d suggest to the quinoa conundrum (as in most food issues) is: if we want to eat it we should grow it ourselves or import it via fair trade.