As the quinoa craze continues, demand for the grain is driving prices higher, perhaps beyond what those who cultivate it can pay.
Touted as the newest superfood, quinoa grows native to the Andean plateau, or altiplano. Bolivians and Peruvians have relied on quinoa as a dietary staple for thousands of years. Now some are saying that even with fair trade regulations in place, the booming demand could be cutting poorer farmers out of the deal.
Free market supporters argue that quinoa exports deliver crucial economic benefits to countries like Peru and Bolivia, helping to ultimately lift these farmers out of poverty, and data show they may have a point. Household incomes have risen since the boom, due in part to spin-off industries and investment by a local government seeking political visibility.
Edouard Rollet, president of Alter Eco, a pioneer of the fair-trade quinoa movement, takes a stand for moderation. Rollet argues that the market should be developed, but proper attention should be paid to the producers. Alter Eco works closely with the National Association of Quinoa Producers (ANAPQUI) and cautions that not all producers are upholding their standards.
The answer, Rollet proposes, is respect for the farmers. Companies should work with cooperative agencies and encourage government participation. Promoting the altiplano quinoa as a regional specialty, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, could also help ensure Bolivian quinoa farmers have a voice in the global marketplace.