Check out this infographic on the impact of the quinoa boom on Bolivian family and small-scale farmers
New findings based on survey results from 100 households located in Southern Bolivia highlight the benefits of the quinoa boom in the region.
Enrico Avitabile, a PhD candidate in Environmental and Development Economics at Rome Tre University interviewed farmers between December 2012 and March 2013 in the Salar (salt flats) de Uyuni region of Bolivia, home of the greatest Quinoa Real production in the world.
The majority of quinoa is produced in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru by small family farms.
Over the last few years worldwide interest in quinoa has increased dramatically. Thanks, in part, to the 2013 International Year of Quinoa, this once forgotten crop with an enormous potential has been pushed into the limelight. With a major jump in the local economy, the impact on local small-scale farmers has been substantial.
According to this study, 81% of farmers interviewed say quinoa is their primary source of income, while almost all farmers define the current price level as adequate. The boom in the quinoa market guarantees improved incomes and access to credit for families and allows farmers access to additional labour and machinery. This, in turn, leads to an improvement in basic assets (houses, sanitary services etc.) and the possibility of better education. The combined effect of better living conditions and public investments in infrastructure contribute to the reversal of large migration flows (especially of young people) that afflicted this area just a few years ago.
One of the key points raised in this study is whether the pressure of foreign demand can put food security at risk in Bolivia. To answer this question, the relationships between quinoa price, export and domestic consumption need to be closely monitored.
It must be said, that quinoa consumption in rural areas is lower now than in the past when families used to eat quinoa "three times a day, seven days a week". However, it should also be noted that quinoa is still adequately consumed and the local diet is much more varied. The increased demand for quinoa has led to an increase in credit and informal trade. This guarantees easier access to previously inaccessible food (both geographically and financially). In fact, local farmers say their food conditions have "improved, thanks to quinoa".
As quinoa becomes more readily available in shops and supermarkets, quinoa consumption in urban areas is increasing rapidly, from 0.35 kg/year in 2008 to 1.11 kg/year in 2012.
The quinoa boom also poses some challenges including land degradation and reduction in cultivated varieties.
More than 50% of farmers define the soil poorer compared to three years ago. This has an impact on other farming activities, for example the ratio of number of lamas to cultivated hectares has decreased in recent years.
In addition, just three varieties cover more than 75% of the entire production, because they are the most demanded by the export sector. This reduction in cultivated varieties is associated with a reduction in biodiversity (even though people in the villages still appreciate the differences among the varieties).
Looking to the future
As we look to the future of quinoa and the family farmers responsible for its production, it is important to define how the quinoa boom can continue in a sustainable way. Increased efforts in developing the domestic market through public policies such as public meals programmes would guarantee a greater access to this nutritious food for all Bolivians. The development of agroindustry could create new opportunities for the crop, which is currently exported solely as pearled grain, with little added value. Furthermore, the conciliation of market demand and conservation of genetic diversity may contribute to the promotion of quinoa as a product with diverse properties and wide-ranging uses (medicinal, cosmetic, etc.).
Greater integration and collaboration between different actors in the quinoa chain would also be beneficial. Private export firms are more active in developing new products and technologies, while producer associations are more linked to life in the communities (better equipped to manage the environmental issues).
Finally, it is important not to separate quinoa production from other activities traditionally carried out in the Southern Altiplano area such as lama breeding (the manure is required to fertilize the ground), and the promising association between quinoa production and ecotourism (the Salar region is one of the most visited attractions in Bolivia).
So, as you are improving your own health by eating this nutritious crop, you can be sure that your purchase of quinoa is enhancing the lives of small-scale Andean farmers, too.
As stated in Bolivia's Ley De La Revolución Productiva Comunitaria Agropecuaria, quinoa is "a strategic product for food security and a great export opportunity".
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