By Matthias Jäger & Irene van Loosen
Quinoa has been cultivated in the high Andes for over 6000 years. It was first grown along the spine of the Andes, from Colombia to southern Chile and Argentina. Quinoa grows in Peru and Bolivia at 4000 masl and most of its genetic diversity rests in these countries, around Lake Titicaca. This important crop is raising interest in other regions, such as Africa, Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. Due to its high protein contents and excellent amino acid composition, quinoa is the most valuable source of plant protein. It is also rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins and fundamental fatty acids such as linoleic acid or Omega-3 acids. Quinoa is gluten free, which makes it ideal for celiac, vegetarian and vegan consumers. Quinoa’s nutrient content is so exceptional, that it is NASA´s preferred food for astronauts. Grain prices tripled over the last 10 years, triggered by export prices. The higher income that farmer families in main producing countries Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador are receiving for the grain has improved their livelihoods in comparison with other rural areas in those countries.
On August 26 and 27, CIAT headquarters hosted a workshop on ‘Quinoa cultivation in Colombia and its future prospects’, that was organized by CIAT’s Linking Farmers to Markets team with support from the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Group picture Quinoa Workshop. Photo credit: Sylvia Pineda (CIAT Communications)
During the workshop, three concrete results were achieved:
- The creation of a National Quinoa Platform, and the election of a board;
- The establishment of a shared vision for 2020;
- The participatory development of a strategic plan including research aspects to solve bottlenecks at all stages along the value chain in Colombia to harness the full potential of the emerging Colombian quinoa sector for reducing poverty and improving food security.
Discussing quinoa production processes and bottlenecks in Colombia
On the first day of the workshop, participants learnt about quinoa cultivation processes in Peru and Bolivia. Through a dynamic participatory mapping exercise the 41 workshop participants determined their individual roles in the different value chain links. Then, the state of the art of the Colombian quinoa sector and production processes were discussed, and bottlenecks in different segments of the value chain were identified.
The participants concluded that while there are many organizations that are providing support services to the Colombian quinoa value chain, these unfortunately do not operate in a coordinated way nor collaborate; practices that lead to duplication of efforts. A second bottleneck identified is the underutilization of physical infrastructure and capacity for the processing of quinoa. For example, there is a factory in Valle del Cauca that has the capacity to process 10,000 tons of quinoa per year. However, it currently processes only 2,000 tons per year, and the raw material is mostly imported from Ecuador. Thirdly, despite widespread knowledge and technology on quinoa present in Colombia and other Latin American countries, there is a lack of mechanisms to facilitate technology transfer and information access.
Developing a shared vision and action plan
The second day of the workshop started with the participatory development of a shared vision for the future of quinoa in Colombia. The vision as defined by the participants is as follows:
‘In 2020, Colombia will have planted 10,000 hectares of organic and conventional quinoa with an estimated production of between 15,0000 and 20,000 tons, which will involve 10,000 to 20,000 families in diversified and sustainable production systems. This production will be destined for international and domestic markets, based on principles of fair trade and inclusive business models. In Colombia, it will be linked to government policies that promote and increase quinoa consumption in urban and rural areas, as well as reducing poverty and improving food security and nutrition of vulnerable Colombian population segments.’
To reach this goal, the workshop participants created an action plan with activities and responsible entities that should work on solving the bottlenecks identified among value chain segments.
Prioritized actions include the characterization of quinoa varieties grown in Colombia; the development of sustainable agricultural practices; the creation of a chapter on quinoa in Plataforma Siembra (Seeding Platform), the repository of publicly accessible information administered by the Colombian Corporation for Agricultural Research (CORPOICA); the development of a Colombian technical standard for quinoa; the implementation of studies to identify differentiating factors of Colombian quinoa to facilitate the creation of a country brand, as well as consumer preferences; and the promotion of quinoa consumption among Colombians.
This action plan offers an additional advantage in the sense that it will allow members of the National Quinoa Platform, created during the workshop, to present themselves to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR) as an integrated system with a competitiveness agreement that includes four quinoa producing departments: Nariño, Cauca, Boyacá and Cundinamarca. Furthermore, the action plan for the quinoa value chain will enable organizations like ProColombia to allocate resources for quinoa market research and studies on consumer preferences, and it will contribute to making the crop eligible for funding in the framework of international cooperation agreements.
Cultivating quinoa in Colombia is a strategic choice. While the crop is underutilized today, it has great potential to generate profits, especially in marginal regions. As such, quinoa production will contribute to increasing food security and reducing poverty in the post-conflict phase of Colombia.
For information on the workshop in Spanish, please look here.
Contact person at CIAT: Matthias Jäger (firstname.lastname@example.org).