Commentary

Quinoa’s Popularity Has Consequences

Quinoa Seeds (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)

Morning begins in the city of Cuzco. Many people leave their homes early to go to work. When they are on their way, they find already carts that offer them breakfast, oftentimes made from quinoa. Many people prefer it because it is very nourishing. It is also good, because at five in the morning there are not a lot of other options.

The food carts found in the city at that time of day offer you either quinoa or maca. You can ask for a glass of hot quinoa with a little milk, while getting a roll with cheese on the side. Instead of the cheese you can have butter if you wish. This is the breakfast that many people eat while on their way to work.

Quinoa is an important part of nutrition in the city of Cuzco. Hours after breakfast has passed you can find for sale in the markets a delicious drink, quinoa chicha. It is ideal as refreshment and for slaking thirst.

Many of the menus offered in Cuzco’s restaurants also have a dish based on quinoa. It could be a soup or a main dish.

This is the panorama that awaits you most days in the streets of Cuzco. However the panorama is now changing, even though quinoa has been the subject of much news in the last years. Without going too far back we can note that last year was the International Year of Quinoa. This year was proposed by our neighbor Bolivia and approved by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Cuzco Street Food, Quinoa Breakfast and Quinoa Chicha (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)
Cuzco Street Food, Quinoa Breakfast and Quinoa Chicha (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)

For many years now, the FAO has been promoting the cultivation of this grains since it is relatively easy and contains high nutritional value. As a result, many people see quinoa as ideal for a good diet. These properties make the demand for quinoa grow each year around the world. You now find quinoa in supermarkets in diverse countries, such as Brazil, the United States, Australia, Europe, and so on. It is no longer just an Andean product. Now you find good quality quinoa, carefully selected, all over the world.

This is a very different situation that what we live in Cuzco, for example. Although it is true you can find quinoa in any of our markets and that quinoa tends to come directly from the producer, the growing demand for the seed has made it price go up. In the last four years it has quadrupled.

As a result, quinoa is now too expensive for many households. Our poorer people no longer have access to this miracle grain. They used to enjoy quinoa as their principle food and now they cannot afford it.

Nowadays, the best quality of quinoa is sold in the hotels, supermarkets, and restaurants. The quinoa found in our markets is of lesser quality, unfortunately. As a result, housewives have to purchase careful and be very selective.

Pesque de Quinoa (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)
Pesque de Quinoa (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)

What used to be called “the Andean Rice” has now spread throughout the world. Nevertheless, this phenomenon has repercussions in household economies of the Andean peoples. You can feel in the markets the disappointment of people who have consumed this food for their whole life and now must opt for other foods. Quinoa and the dishes and drinks that from it are prepared face rising prices.

Given that more and more quinoa is being produced, you would not think this would be the case, but it is. The market and rising prices are changing our ways.

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