Biggest in Quinoa, but Peru faces challenge of inclusive and sustainable growth

Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador are the world’s greatest producers and exporters of quinoa. It surely is no secret anymore that of these 3 countries Peru is currently the biggest producer and exporter of Quinoa. It has been so for some 2 years, surpassing Bolivia as the previous number one. Peru and Bolivia together have 80% market share of the world’s quinoa trade.

Quinoa is a plant from the amaranth family that originated from the Andean region of Peru, and is grown especially for its healthy seeds, the Quinoa grains. It is also called “Inka Gold” as it was a highly valued food by the Inca-civilization (as valuable as gold). Among others, it is rich in proteins, in fibre, it is gluten-free and it contains all the important amino-acids. No wonder it is also considered as a superfood!

The trend among consumers to eat healthy, especially in Europe and the US, led to a growing demand for and popularity of this crop. Which is one of the reasons that the United Nations proclaimed 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa. After that production and exports grew even more. Worldwide Quinoa production grew from approximately 75000 tonnes in 2015 to approximately 229000 tonnes in 2017.

In Peru quinoa is mostly grown in Puno, a southern region in Peru (about 66%), but also in regions such as Arequipa and Cuzco by groups of small producers on small plots of land. The USA, Netherlands, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are some of the biggest importers of Peruvian quinoa.

Quinoa is traditionally produced in a natural way in Peru, meaning that no pesticides are used. Nonetheless until just a few years ago, many small farmers did not have the organic certification.

Concerning the impact of the increasing production and exports of Quinoa, perspectives vary.

  1. There have been farmers who -in the face of growing quinoa demand- started using pesticides when traditionally this had not been applied. On the other hand, the Peruvian government has promoted the organic production of Quinoa, and nowadays many companies export quinoa with the organic certification.
  2. Furthermore, according to the Andean Grains-program (a joint ILO-UNESCO-FAO initiative), growth of quinoa production has not always translated into better quality of life or income for the producers. The situation is especially difficult for women in rural communities, who account for 69% of all agricultural producers, but face more hardships than male agricultural producers.
  3. On the other hand, there are studies that show that the exponential growth of quinoa generated an increase in the prices of quinoa, which helped to improve the welfare of the communities (for example in Puno and Cuzco), and it provided the opportunity for small farmers to get out of poverty and be part of inclusive growth.
  4. Another treath facing small Quinoa farmers is climate change and the loss of biodiversity. There exist around 3000 varieties of quinoa, but the market focusses on just a few varieties.