Monday, July 03, 2017

The quinoa trend in google searches.

Google trends results

Quinoa has continued to grow in popularity.  The graph above shows search trends over time for quinoa, in blue, compared to kale, in red, and amaranth, in yellow. Quinoa has continued to increase, although it probably still is a fad food and not a true staple, because of the uptick in searches each January in the United states.  This is probably because it is a healthy grain with high and balanced protein content, and is easy to cook as a substitute for rice. 

From Wikipedia commons
By User:MarkusHagenlocher - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

But, the story of quinoa is not just that of a fad food.  It is native to the highlands of Bolivia and Peru, and a staple crop for indigenous populations.  When I was in Bolivia working on Bolivia it was not eaten even in Lima very often because it was seen as a poor person's food and an indigenous crop, but that had a negative connotation.  People described it as an "indio" food - which is a very negative thing.  Leila made a number of different quinoa recipes and we invited visitors to try them.

One of the almost mythic stories from when I worked in Bolivia was about the germplasm collection of quinoa varieties.  Alejandro Bonifacio was the breeder I worked with, and he had about 2-3000 quinoa varieties, previously owned by the Bolivian government. I need to interview him and Amalia about the period where the government decided to stop funding the collection and the experiment station and seeds were burned during a protest about government land redistribution.  Alejandro rescued the collection at great personal risk and danger.  It survived because of funding from private donors like PROINPA, the Benson Institute and the McKnight Foundation.

The other cautionary tale from the history of quinoa was a breeding effort from the USDA that used Bolivian germplasm and their development of an improved variety with male sterility.  The Bolivian government, popular press, and public erupted because this was "bio-piracy." Stories ranted that US researchers were stealing the inheritance of native Bolivians and were going to make them pay a royalty for growing their traditional crops.  US researchers, Sarah Ward and Duane Johnson, let the patent application go, but consequences of this for quinoa research still reverb. 

These skeptics often cite an incident at the Patacamaya research station, which local farmers sacked and burned in 1998 in the name of rural land redistribution. In the process, they destroyed seed canisters containing Bolivia’s largest gene bank for quinoa — 1,900 varieties, collected over decades. By a stroke of luck, Bonifacio was then running an experiment for which a duplicate of the collection had been parceled out to grow at two distant research stations.1 Otherwise, the gene bank would have been lost.


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