Project “Quinoa Felix”: FAO staff visit the site in Ercolano, Italy

As part of the efforts to promote quinoa and amaranth in Italy, the project “Quinoa Felix” aims to introduce Italian farmers to the cultivation of certain quinoa varieties while promoting the production of quinoa-derived food products amongst various stakeholders. “Quinoa Felix” is funded by PSR Campania 2007- 2013  (Campania’s Rural Development Programme) under Project Action 124: “Cooperation for development of new products, processes and technologies in the agriculture and food sector and the forestry sector.” The project is managed by the Institute for Agricultural and Forestry Systems in the Mediterranean (ISAFoM) based in Ercolano, Italy, which is part of a scientific network of institutes under the Italian National Research Council (CNR).

Quinoa was selected for this project due to its high nutritional qualities and as an alternative to normal cereals in coeliac diets because its seeds are gluten-free.

In addition, quinoa’s proven resistance to drought and water salinity makes it an ideal crop to be tested in the Mediterranean region. Research carried out by the same team as part of the EU project Swup-Med (Sustainable water use securing food production in dry areas of the Mediterranean Region) had previously demonstrated that quinoa can be used in the drought and salt-stress environment of Mediterranean agroecosystems. Swup-Med was financed by the EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) where ISAFoM was beneficiary partner.

Quinoa’s adaptability to extreme and diverse climatic conditions also allows it to perform well in the face of climate change. The choice of quinoa is in line with the EU directive towards sustainable agriculture.

The main objectives of the “Quinoa Felix” project are to: 

  • verify the adaptability of quinoa varieties and selection of the most suitable varieties for the chosen area in southern Italy (Campania);
  • assess the nutritional, chemical and functional characteristics of quinoa;
  • develop technological support for the entire production cycle;
  • fine tune production and use of quinoa goods;
  • undertake market analysis for quinoa-based products.

In July 2013, two FAO staff members visited the site to see progress made and discuss the challenges and achievements in testing the crop in the Mediterranean region. FAO is collaborating with ISAFoM in the creation of a time-lapse video which will be released shortly.

During the visit it was highlighted that a key element for developing the crop in Europe is the adaptation of existing machinery and equipment currently used in cereal production as quinoa grains are considerably smaller than any other crop cereal. In addition, further research is needed in order to draft a plan of action for local weed control.

As the production of quinoa-based food products has considerable implications on the agro-food supply chain, part of the visit also involved the tasting of quinoa products including breads and biscuits. The visit to Vitulazio (Caserta) ended with an interesting presentation from Casale del Principato srl (local bakery) on the processes used to produce baked goods containing a significant amount (20-80%) of quinoa flour that meet the high quality level required by consumers.

The visit strengthens relations between FAO and CNR and paves the way for future collaboration and sharing of knowledge on the introduction of quinoa in Mediterranean-climate environments affected by multiple abiotic stresses.

To view images of progress made, please visit the gallery Project “Quinoa Felix”.