• 22/01/13
  • Comments: 4

By Mike Small

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.

  • Admin
    The Fife Diet June 11, 2014 at 12:57

    The direction of the sun doesn’t matter Angelique, however I think it’s probably too late in the growing season to plant it now – not enough warm(ish!) months left for the plants to grow and flower before the autumn frosts come and they days get quite short again. Best keep your seeds till next year and try then!

  • Angelique van Engelen June 10, 2014 at 18:00

    Thank you so much for publishing this information. I too was under the impression that your harvest had been a failure (read it online somewhere) and had set myself the goal to make sure different seeds would work. Now I’ve put in an order for Temuco quinoa and Rainbow quinoa and am going to dash out to the allotment tomorrow to get the soil prepared! I have grown wheatgrass non stop for 3 years running so it won’t be for lack of perseverance if this comes to zilch.
    One question I have though is if this plant needs Western sunlight? My plot is lined by a wall which will give the plant sunlight from morning till noon only. Do you think that would be a problem? Hoping to hear from you.
    Angelique van Engelen

  • Admin
    The Fife Diet April 1, 2014 at 13:53

    Hey that’s great Goran. Please keep in touch with us

  • Goran March 31, 2014 at 12:29

    Thx Mike,
    my Friend and I will try this year to plant about 100m2 of Rainbow and Temuco in Croatia,and then with seed we grow from that, go and plant something about 10 acres in mountains and if it all goes well,we will start growing it regulary every year and perhaps do some business :)