Academic journal article Human Organization

From Lost Crop to Lucrative Commodity: Conservation Implications of the Quinoa Renaissance

Academic journal article Human Organization

From Lost Crop to Lucrative Commodity: Conservation Implications of the Quinoa Renaissance

Article excerpt


Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) was a central crop in Vndean highlands through several pre-conquest milennia (Morris 1999; Tapia 1979) but ceded ground orld grains after Spanish colonization (NRC 1989). In 1989, the crop was identified by the US National Research Council (1989) as a "lost crop of the Incas." Since then, it has been rescued from oblivion and attained the status of a global gourmet grain. Nutritious and tasty, it is now found in many nations' markets and touted in a plethora of cookbooks and websites as a miracle heritage food. This development has been accompanied by a keen interest in the crop among research and development agencies and also led to a renaissance for quinoa in its native Andes. Numerous projects have been put in place to recuperate its cultivation in the Andean countryside, and new harvests feed an increasingly quinoahungry international market. Quinoa's renaissance reached a highpoint with the United Nation's declaration of 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa (United Nations General Assembly 2011).

The recent surge in quinoa's popularity, production, and price levels has not gone unnoted among social scientists working in the realm of food and agriculture; it has been critically examined in terms of its effects on local economic relations and nutrition (Brett 2010; Friedman-Rudovsky 2012; Ofstehage 2012). Yet, while research on other crops in other settings often has linked commercialization of cultivated crops with reduced on-farm varietal diversity (Abbott 2005; Brush and Meng 1998; Brush, Taylor, and Bellon 1992; Nazarea 1998; Rana et al. 2007), few have so far paid attention to potential consequences for the conservation of quinoa biodiversity.

The maintenance of a genetically broad quinoa diversity in its Andean center of origin and diversity holds central importance for the crop's future sustainability. Along the Andean mountain range, the crop is grown on altitudes from sea level and up to 4,000 m, and different landraces2 are adapted to the varying environmental and climatic parameters along these gradients (Rojas, Pinto, and Soto 2010). As with other crops, the continued cultivation of diverse landraces is crucial in order for the crop to be able to adapt to changing environmental conditions and societal needs; a wide varietal diversity provides farmers and breeders with options and raw materials for crop development and food production now and in the future (FAO 2010).

Accordingly, the main objective of the present paper is to investigate whether and how quinoa's renaissance influences the crop diversity under cultivation. The objective is pursued through a case study in Cotacachi, a site in the Ecuadorian Andes where several quinoa projects have been implemented during the recent past.

Below, 1 begin with an overview of quinoa's past and present situation in an Andean and global perspective. I then present the case study area and methods, report on quinoa's traditional role in the study area, and show how the quinoa renaissance has played out locally through the description of two recent quinoa projects. Next, 1 present data on changes in farmers' quinoa agrobiodiversity following the projects. Finally, 1 discuss the observed processes and conclude with some implications for further conservation and development work.

Quinoa's Past: Glory and Neglect

Quinoa is not a grass like most of our major staple grains but belongs to the goosefoot-family. Because of this heritage, it is classified a "pseudo-cereal," together with other related American domesticates (Harlan 1995). Quinoa exhibits nutritive qualities superior to most cereals. Its protein contains a remarkably balanced set of essential amino acids, similar to milk's caseine (Repo-Carrasco, Espinoza, and Jacobsen 2003). It is also rich in polyunsaturated oil, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (Abugoch James 2009; Repo-Carrasco, Espinoza, and Jacobsen 2003). The catch is that each seed is enveloped in a bitter, saponine-containing coating. …

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