Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quinoa - The Golden Grain

Who hasn't heard of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) ? This little grain (which is in fact a grass from the chenopod family ~ like spinach and beets) has become increasingly popular these last few years, and is a blessing for people on a gluten free diet. But behind this little wonder of Nature that people can now enjoy worldwide, there is a sad and not-so-glorious story.

I just saw a very interesting documentary about quinoa and peasants of the Bolivian Altiplano. Quinoa has been a staple food in Bolivia for a very long time but with the increasing demand for the little grain and its proportionally increasing price, the poor folks of Bolivia can't afford eating quinoa anymore...They say even store bought pasta is cheaper, isn't it outrageous?

There's more to the story. Quinoa, it seems, has done a lot of good to the indian peasants of the Altiplano: they've become rich (and richer with higher prices on the market) and they've finally earned some respect! But here's the drawback: agriculture in the Altiplano isn't an easy thing - the land is almost barren and peasants already have a hard time feeding themselves & their families. Yet year after year, there's less and less quinoa being harvested in the Altiplano; the land they cherish is becoming "tired" as they say...And they start worrying and acknowledging that in a near future they won't be able to grow the golden grain anymore.

These people have been working hard to feed the world while they are already currently struggling to feed themselves.

Quinoa is a grain that doesn't have to many requirements, so that the home gardener can grow it too. There are a few seed suppliers selling quinoa seeds. If you can't find quinoa seeds (though I'm sure you can grow them from the boxes you find in your grocery store), there are other chenopods that produce similar edible grains (and greens) that you can grow, like Huauzontle (Chenopodium berlandieri) and the Giant Goosefoot (Chenopodium gigantium).

I believe that the agriculture of the future will be local. It has to be. If the best agricultural and environmentally friendly techniques were used worldwide, there would be enough to grow & eat (without depleting the soil: the ecology of the soil is very important) for everybody. This the 21st century and people are still starving...How come? There's enough money, knowledge and resources. Money is wasted, knowledge is hidden and resources have a price. It's always about money and the power to deprive & control poor countries which, with a little help and good will, could thrive! But that's another story...

I've just sown a few quinoa seeds this morning, I hope to be able to see the plants grow...And harvest my own seeds (even if just a few). I also hope that the peasants from the Altiplano will manage to grow enough quinoa to feed themselves first, before the rest of the world!

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