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
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)

(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."

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Mar 20, 2011 7:28 PM CDT
Simple - grow more of it and price comes down for everyone
Mar 20, 2011 5:16 PM CDT
I'm a vegetarian who eats quinoa pretty regularly to help supplement my protein. It's a remarkable superfood, one I highly recommend. I first heard about it in a men's health magazine, and decided to check it out. Since I first heard about it, I've seen the prices skyrocket. The real problem happens when popular magazines and talk shows profile these kinds of foods, and everyone runs out to get it, raising the demand and the cost. Everytime we find a food that can actually help people get healthy, we end up paying more for a serving of it than for an entire family meal from some crappy fast food joint. And now it's coming to light that we've been doing the same thing to other developing countries, as well. If you haven't already, check out the documentary "Food, Inc." It'll enlighten you.
Mar 20, 2011 2:44 PM CDT
I love quinoa. Been eating it a couple of years. I wasn't aware that there was a food problem there and a shortage in quinoa. Too bad it can't be grown somewhere else. For those people with celiac disease, it's a vital food. <:-)