The demand by health enthusiasts for quinoa has raised prices of the Andean super grain, but quinoa fever is currently stressing Bolivian farmers, prompting them to abandon traditional land management practices, and endangering the fragile ecosystem of the arid highlands, CBS News reported on Feb. 21. Bolivia’s National Association of Quinoa Producers will not work with growers who do not follow traditional farming methods of rotating crops so that the soil is not depleted.
Quinoa’s current cost per ton is as much as $3,200, an increase of nearly three times the cost per ton five years ago. The demand for quinoa has been fueled by “foodies” making quinoa a hot health-food product based on its high content of protein and amino acids. Quinoa is gluten-free, thus making it even more popular with those who suffer from celiac disease. Quinoa is actually an edible seed, though it is used like grain.
In December 2012, Bolivian President Evo Morales mounted a tractor and plowed furrows in the soil of his highland hometown, Orinoca, in an effort to promote the quinoa growing season. Then, last week, Evo Morales scolded Bolivian farmers for having planted quinoa in pastures where llamas have traditionally grazed. Not much will grow in the arid highlands without the llamas manure. Quinoa goes hand in hand with the natural fertilizer that llamas produce and there must be nutritional crossing between the two.