(left) In Bolivia, a Brazilian farmer stands with quinoa plants close to harvest. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons/Michael Hermann)





Quinoa Nutrition: Farmers From Bolivia, Brazil Don't Want to Give Superfood Seed Samples to US Researchers

By Scharon Harding (staff@latinpost.com)

Quinoa may have sparked the latest health craze, but the food is also sparking debate between indigenous farmers in Brazil, who harvest the grain, and researchers in the United States, who want to grow it themselves.

Quinoa is a species of goosefoot grown in the Andes in the Altiplano plains area. The grain crop is valued for its seeds, which are high in protein, amino acids, fiber, phosphorus, magnesium and iron, according to U.S. National Library of Medicine. It also contains calcium and is gluten-free and low-fat, according to About.com. As a result, quinoa has been dubbed the latest "superfood," prompting the interest of U.S. researchers.

Bolivia is the main exporter of quinoa and has a backup supply of the 120 different species and 1,800 varieties found in the country, Fox News Latino reported. Brazil has a treaty allowing it to withhold some of these resources from the rest of the world, but U.S. researchers want access to the seeds so they can plant quinoa elsewhere and help poor countries get better nutrition.

Bolivian farmers, however, have their reservations.

"I have no doubt about researchers' goodwill," Pablo Laguna, a sociologist and anthropologist who studies quinoa's social and financial impact on Bolivian farmers, told FNL. "The problem is what mechanism do we have to protect the peasants' intellectual property?"

Laguna also noted the possibility of new companies dominating the quinoa industry and taking it away from Bolivia. Because of the crop, farmers have enjoyed luxuries like having houses outside of the plains and better education with more teachers.

"Quinoa is not only providing money to farmers. You have an industry. You have exporters. You have industrial machine factories to supply industrial cleaning process," Laguna said. "Of course you want to keep all the advantages."

The crop is also grown in Peru, Argentina, Columbia and Ecuador. Quinoa is grown in the U.S. and Canada on a smaller scale, but researchers say, if they hope to make the crops intolerable to pests and climates around the world, they need access to Brazil's seed samplings.

"I believe God gave [humanity] this as a gift -- along with wheat, corn, rice -- not something for one group to benefit from," Rick Jellen, chair of Brigham Young University's plant and wildlife department, told FNL.

Jellen said that quinoa's various uses, such as in cereal and bread, can't happen without a more reliable supply.

Stephen Gorard, the first to bring quinoa to the U.S. according to FNL, said that big companies will mass produce quinoa with or without Bolivia's help.

Quinoa is not just a cash crop for Brazil but a historical one as well. The grain used to be used spiritually until Spanish conquistadores banned it. FNL reported that it "was derogatorily considered an indigenous food."

Some believe that the Altiplano can't handle the environmental stress that demand for the popular food causes. Blake Waltrip, Ancient Harvest CEO, disagrees.

"There are 120,000 hectares of land being used for quinoa farming in Bolivia, but 4 million hectares are available and appropriate for quinoa farming," he said. "There's room to plant much more quinoa than is currently being cultivated. Because there is so much land, there is better opportunity to farm in a sustainable way by allowing the land adequate time to rest."