Quinoa event Bolivia highlights royal quinoa

In March I participated in the international quinoa event to celebrate 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. The event was organised by the Bolivian Chamber of Quinoa Exporters (CABOLQUI). I now feel totally inspired and motivated to help develop the quinoa sector in Bolivia. The organisers did a great job mobilising almost 200 people from around the world to gain an in-depth understanding of the Bolivian quinoa sector.

Bolivia’s Royal Quinoa is the leading quinoa variety on international markets. It is produced organically on the altiplano (high plain) and is part of a sensitive eco-social system. At these altitudes, quinoa is virtually the only crop that can be grown. The production is part of the llama-quinoa system, where natural areas and fallow land are needed in a delicate balance with arable land. The use of natural zones and ‘barreras vivas’ help maintain this balance.

PROINPA in Cochabamba gave us an impressive overview of their research, which aims to strengthen this system (partly in collaboration with Wageningen UR). The institure has developed a wide variety of biological inputs and techniques to improve production. These include natural control of pests, use of microorganisms to make nutrients available and the development of different varieties for various uses and situations. All of this in compliance with organic standards. FAO has an interesting initiative to create the International Quinoa Centre with the Bolivian government.

Personally, I was very happy to meet some farmers and their representatives, who gave me another perspective on the recent growth in sales and prices. Whereas the income to farmers has undoubtedly increased a lot over the past five years especially, there is still a long way to go to end poverty among the inhabitants of the altiplano. And farmers are also faced with increasing costs and requirements to keep their production system healthy and sustainable. Well, many of the original inhabitants have actually migrated, but there is hope (and a need) that some of them will now return.

All in all, the conference showed us a strong an vibrant quinoa sector, which is eager to engage in the many challenges that lie ahead.

Regarding trade, the quinoa crop is expected to be 80000 tons this year, a strong increase from 50000 tons in 2012. This may lead to bottle necks in the processing capacity. Most conference participants would like to have stable prices, but there is no mechanism in place to achieve this. We will see what happens when the harvest starts in April.