Superfood from the Andes is so popular that the farmers can’t afford it
By Pete Evans, CBC News
Posted: Jan 18, 2013
It’s so nutritious, NASA makes sure it’s a staple of the diet they feed to astronauts. The president of the country that makes more of it than anywhere else on earth calls it a “strategic asset.” And the UN has named 2013 “the year of quinoa.”
The world’s love affair with the Andean superfood prized for being high-protein, low-fat and gluten-free is well underway. But the sudden boom is playing havoc with prices and making it inaccessible for the subsistence farmers who have harvested the so-called miracle food for millennia.
This week, British newspaper the Guardian wrote earnestly about the uglier side of the quinoa boom. The sudden surge in popularity has caused retail prices for some quinoa varieties to jump more than 600 per cent since 2000, and more than triple since 2007.
Vegans and environmentalists adore the humble chenopod for its health properties (it’s closely related to other trendy foods such as spinach, kale and beets) and for its ability to withstand frost, temperature changes and high altitudes.
In a few short decades, quinoa has grown from a local food integral to indigenous people spread across Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, into a burgeoning global food commodity.
Global production has jumped from under 20,000 tonnes a year in the 1980s up to nearly 100,000 tonnes annually. The three aforementioned countries still make up almost 90 per cent of global production — although there have been successful attempts to grow quinoa in the U.S., Canada and parts of Europe.
Yet even as supply has grown, demand has expanded even further. The wholesale price for the most prized quinoa varieties often eclipses $3,500 US a ton.
‘The culprit of hunger is often bad local politics, not other people wanting to buy your food’—University of Toronto professor Pierre Desrochers
The Guardian, the Globe and Mail and other media report this week that that’s making the subsistence farmers who harvest quinoa high in the Andres unable to afford it for food themselves. That, in turn, is causing them to turn to other more non-traditional foods to make up for it. Far from moving them out of the barter system and into affluence, the West’s obsession with quinoa is unintentionally taking food out of farmers’ mouths.
But that’s an insincere argument, experts tell CBC News.
“It’s the same old story,” University of Toronto professor and food-economics author Pierre Desrochers says.
Desrochers is a critic of the so-called “100-mile diet” that holds the most environmentally conscious and healthiest human diet is to eat seasonal fruits, vegetables and meats available near you year round.
He argues that the mass-farming practices that are so often reviled by foodies have nonetheless helped bring food prices down and bring a wider variety of nutritional options to more people in the world.