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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Quinoa: A Supermom of all Grains for Quechua Women

Do you know the Year 2013 is declared by the United Nations General Assembly as “International Year of Quinoa”? How will this help impact the women in the Andes region of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia who are the main growers of this grain crop? What will be the consequences on the food security and on the local culture and practice of the indigenous Quechua? Who will benefit and who will be excluded?

© SIPAM/FAO/MINAM/Alipio Canahua. Photo credit must be given

© SIPAM/FAO/MINAM/Alipio Canahua.

The main objective of the “International Year of Quinoa” is to recognize the local knowledge and age-old culture of Andean people, and to highlight the significance of quinoa and its contribution to global food security.

During my trip to Quito in April, I learnt about this UN initiative. In Quito’s Mariscal area I found a fair trade organic shop and soon became a regular customer to buy this super power food called ‘quinoa’. Typically a packet of 500gm of quinoa costs around US$20 in Mumbai’s supermarket while in Quito’s organic store it was approximately US$2 – a far more economical deal! Besides economic there are ecological and nutritional benefits as well.

Quinoa is gluten free, low fat, high protein and fibre-rich grain crop – in brief – a power-packed high nutritive value food from Andean origin. A perfect hardy crop because it can sustain extreme temperatures and climate variability. Therefore, quinoa is highly appreciated as a crop suitable for te arid and semi-arid drought prone regions, and for poor small-scale farmers. During my three-week stay in Ecuador I was introduced to a cooperative leader of small-scale farmers (organic and fair-trade) from Mount Chimboroza. She explained me that the majority of the quinoa farming (now-a-days) is done by Quechua women.

Quechua are the indigenous people inhabiting the Andes region of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Quechua women are typically small-scale farmers, whose husbands migrate to neighbouring towns/cities for labour work. These women take an active role in cultivating quinoa for household consumption and for marketing in the local market. However, according to the cooperative leader, women are in general benefiting the least in the value chain to market of quinoa. Quechua women are often dependent on local traders and therefore they receive relatively low prices below the real market value.

The second issue I discussed with the cooperative leader is that over the past decade there has been a steady increase in demand for quinoa in the global market that is influencing land tenure relations. It is assumed that the prospects of increasing economic benefit may influence many men to switch back to quinoa farming, and by making more claims on land (ownership) for cultivating quinoa.

The third important issue is that because of high value of quinoa, they might be tempted to sell their produce and substitute for more inferior food items that are available in the market. A staple nutritious diet might become a matter of economic choice for poorer locals.

This story is based on the discussion of the fair-trade quinoa nevertheless I think there are few emerging questions that require future research attention. First and foremost what is the impact of global demand of quinoa on local indigenous women? Then, to what extent the global supply (including organic fair trade) through small scale farms will help to change the position of local producers in the value chain (and what is the gender dimension) of quinoa. In what way the shift from subsistence farming to commercial production for the global quinoa market will impact the Andes region? Finally, will this super-crop empower the local women?

Drop a comment and share your thoughts and experiences on the gender dimensions of Quinoa. 


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