In February, top officials from the United Nations and the Andean community of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru launched 2013 as the ‘International Year of Quinoa’ to raise awareness of the nutritional, economic, environmental and cultural value of a food that has been traditionally cultivated for thousands of years.
“I hope this International Year will be a catalyst for learning about the potential of quinoa for food and nutrition security, for reducing poverty – especially among the world’s small farmers – and for environmentally sustainable agriculture,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the launch at UN Headquarters.
By declaring 2013 the ‘International Year of Quinoa’, the United Nations is hoping to popularize a life-sustaining seed that could help promote food security and poverty eradication, cut malnutrition, reducing world hunger by half and boost biodiversity in support of the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), one of the globally-agreed anti-poverty targets with a deadline of 2015. It is also a way to recognize the indigenous peoples who preserved quinoa through traditional knowledge and practices passed down through the ages.
Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wah’), which was a little known food a few years ago, has risen to culinary stardom. It is a highly nutritious grain-like crop that has made its entry into the food basket of culinary connoisseurs and has been a staple for centuries in South America, among pre-Columbian Andean farming communities from Colombia to Ecuador. In fact, most of the world's quinoa is grown on the altiplano, a vast, cold, windswept, and barren 14,000-foot Andean plateau spanning parts of Peru and Bolivia.
Quinoa is not really a grain and not really a vegetable. It is a pseudo-cereal, part of the chenopodium family (herbaceous flowering plants) related to beets and spinach. Quinoa seeds are gluten-free and have all the essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins needed to survive. Quinoa is also a complete source of protein. Due to its high nutritional value, indigenous peoples and researchers call it “the golden grain of the Andes.”
The small crop is widely adaptable, thriving in temperatures ranging from -8 degrees Celsius to 38 degrees Celsius, at sea level or 4,000 meters above, and is not impacted by low moisture. This versatility makes quinoa a viable food option for areas with arid farming conditions and high malnutrition rates. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that one billion people were affected by malnutrition in 2010, nearly all living in the developing world.
“Many nations in South America are making strong progress toward meeting the Millennium Development Goal, including by increasing food production, reducing poverty and increasing access to nutritious food like quinoa,” Mr. Ban said.
Bolivia and Peru account for more than half of the annual 70,000 tons of quinoa produced, according to the FAO. While its cultivation is expanding to include Kenya, India, North America and Europe, most of the crop is farmed through traditional means in the Andean altiplano.
In 2011, the General Assembly adopted a resolution honoring quinoa with its own year. In doing so, the 193-member body sought to recognize the Andean indigenous people “who have managed to preserve quinoa in its natural state as food for present and future generations, through ancestral practices of living in harmony with nature.” The theme for this year is “a future sown thousands of years ago.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma, a former farmer himself, told the launch that the world today “discovered the real value of quinoa,” which stands in sharp contrast to the colonial disrespect for the food and traditional ways of indigenous lives.
Mr. Ban added that quinoa holds the promise of improved income for small-scale farmers, a key plan of his Zero Hunger Challenge which aims to provide adequate nutrition to every person. Its five objectives are to make sure that everyone in the world has access to enough nutritious food all year long; to end childhood stunting; to build sustainable food systems; to double the productivity and income of smallholder farmers, especially women; and to prevent food from being lost or wasted.
*You will find some delicious, creative quinoa recipes by visiting Cooking Light.
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