In Bolivia, a Quinoa Quandary

Popularity means more money for farmers, but people can't afford it

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 20, 2011 2:14 PM CDT

(Newser) – Quinoa is a food so remarkable it's been praised by NASA scientists—and Americans and Europeans have taken note, gobbling up the protein-heavy Andean plant (generally miscategorized as a grain), which sells for as much as $5 a box. But with quinoa's ascent comes a troubling predicament for the Bolivians who have lived off it for centuries: The growing demand has ballooned farmers' incomes in the poor country, but now many Bolivians can't afford it, forcing them to turn instead to cheap processed foods. At Bolivian supermarkets, a roughly two-pound bag costs about $4.85; buying the same amount of noodles or white rice costs $1.20 and $1, respectively.

The New York Times reports that the shift shines a light on the quandary of rising global food prices: In the last five years, quinoa prices have nearly tripled ... but the country's consumption of it has fallen 34%, and with it, nutrition. One nutritionist says studies show that chronic malnutrition among children is climbing in quinoa-growing areas. But officials say food preferences are partly to blame: "It has to do with food culture, because if you give the kids toasted quinoa flour, they don’t want it; they want white bread. If you give them boiled water, sugar and quinoa flour mixed into a drink, they prefer Coca-Cola."

In this photo taken Oct. 25, 2010, an Aymara woman grinds quinoa grain in Pacoma, Bolivia. Quinoa's rising popularity among First World foodies has been a boon to some of the poor farmers in the semiarid...   (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
In this photo taken Oct. 25, 2010, a man cleans quinoa grain in Pacoma, Bolivia. Quinoa's rising popularity among First World foodies has been a boon to some of the poor farmers in the semiarid highlands...   (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
In this photo taken Oct. 2, 2010, a man stands next to bags filled with quinoa grain in La Paz, Bolivia. Quinoa's rising popularity among First World foodies has been a boon to some of the poor farmers...   (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
An employee is seen working at a quinoa processing plant in Challapata, 117 km from Oruro, Bolivia on February 15, 2011.   (Getty Images)
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