Archives for January 2, 2017

DAY 20 – Industrialized Organic Quinoa

DAY 20 – Industrialized Organic Quinoa

NOTE: This is a look back to a visit made earlier in December. I hope to visit this site again for an update before I leave in February.


Walking the recently machine-planted quinoa fields. The seeds normally germinate within three weeks – if there is ample rain.

Today we went with Paola Mejia Valdivia, the General Manager of CABOLQUI, the Bolivian Chamber of Quinoa Exporters, to visit an exciting new organic quinoa project they are working on with the Ayamaya community or La Paz.  CABOLQUI is a Bolivian non-profit that works to promote quinoa sales to the US and Europe and is also working to get Royal Quinoa recognized – with a Mark of Denomination of Origin  – as  having unique properties and characteristics, that come from the rare, fragile, volcanic soils it is grown in.

CABOLQUI  has high quality quinoa export members, most of whom have organic and ISO9001 certifications such as:

  • SIMSA a 78-year-old company that works with industrialized production and is a certified organic processor and distributor of Andean cereals for global markets. Their current quinoa products include quinoa flakes, quinoa flour, quinoa bars and puffed quinoa.
  • Quinoa Foods – A 14-year-old organic Royal Quinoa processor and wholesale and retail exporter founded by Juan Pablo Selene and featured in my previous quinoa research.
  • QuinoaBol – A small, regional quinoa processing and exporting company founded in 1998 by quinoa producer, Raul Veliz Mamani.
  • Irupana – One of my favorite socially responsible Bolivian business who has been producing organic products such as honey, granola, teas and cereals since 1985.
  • Coronilla – Another favorite of mine which for 30 years has been a pioneer in the development of certified organic, gluten free quinoa pasta and snacks. In 1996, I worked with them as an international marketing consultant with the Bolivian chamber of Small Industry.

Other members include organic food processor Andean Valley, organic Royal Quinoa promoter and advocate EIPEA (cabolqui), quinoa food processing innovator CITY and market developer, Comrural XXI.

Water tanks set up for spray irrigation on emerging crops.

Water tanks set up for spray irrigation on emerging crops.

CABOLQUI works to develop all members of the quinoa production chain promoting organic production, social and ecological responsibility and the development of small farmers.

The project we visited was an innovative model of large scale, 100% industrialized, organic quinoa production located two hours outside the city of La Paz towards the traditional quinoa growing zone of Oruro.  Spanning a massive (for Bolivia) 1,235 acres, it was developed under the new government title of “Plural Business.”   Plural Business was developed by the Minister of Productive Development and Plural Economy as a way for private businesses and farmers to work together in agriculture innovations.

Industrialized seed preparation and planting equipment.

Industrialized seed preparation and planting equipment.

After a competitive search with 19 communities applying to be a part of this new company, CABOLQUI, with funding from its members and private investors, chose to work with 196 families in Ayamaya, outside of SicaSica, La Paz.  The project requirements were that the land needed to be undeveloped, certifiable as organic, with a local water source (in this case a well), flat, connected, and with favorable soil and climate conditions.  According to Plural Business guidelines, individual farmers donate their lands for development and share in the production earnings 50/50 with the developers.  In turn the developers assume all costs and risk involved with the agricultural land development.

The Ayamaya project is a 12-year program, currently in its second year.  The first year was spent strategizing the project and developing the new machines and technology for it to work.  2016 was the first year the land had been plowed and planted.  Unfortunately it was also when an tremendous drought hit, upsetting the customary rain cycles needed for effective quinoa production.  Never-the-less about 70% of the quinoa planted 42 days ago in November, when two small rainfalls did take place, is growing and thriving.  Once germinated and about 3” high, quinoa needs very little water.  It is the germination process that is precarious in times of unpredictable rainfall.

70% germinated and growing - a 2 month old quinoa parcel doing well.

70% germinated and growing – a 2 month old quinoa parcel doing well.

We traveled with Paola, a petite highly organized director who checked on other projects – verifying distribution of organic pest control to hundreds of farmers producing for the members she served – as we traveled with her and agronomists Adalir and Oscar  to the site.  Raised in Bolivia and educated in the US, Paola specializes in accounting and management systems.  She explained the Plural Business program and patiently answered my slew of questions. After working with small farmers for so long, I was very curious about the idea of large scale organic industrialized production.

Upon arriving at the project site I felt I was in another world. A huge water tower and immense water tanks greeted me.  In the spirit of mechanization and innovation, the entire project is attended to by just 6 workers.  We observed that it had rained up to about 100 yards from the site entrance, though the site itself had received no rain.  No problem, two tractors provided sprayed water irrigation for the scores of 2.5 acre (1 ha) land parcels currently in production, at a rate of 321 gallons per acre, daily.  However with the drought, this seemed like it might not be enough.  With the planning season almost at an end and no rain in sight, agronomists decided to go ahead and plant a few dozen more parcels, hoping for rainfall, and experimenting with their irrigation methods.  Currently the spray did not seem to be penetrating the soil enough to promote germination, the agronomists and Paola were worried about what this would been for the project.

Moth capturing system with pheromones made in Europe.

Moth capturing system with pheromones made in Europe.

Seed planting was done in a way I had never imagined, and according to Paola, has never been undertaking by anyone else either.  A slurry of composted cow, sheep and llama manure was mixed in large industrial mixers with sand and water to create a highly nutritious muck.  Quinoa seeds were added to this and the entire mess encapsulated into golf ball sized seed capsules which would dissolve in the muddy soil, giving he pre-germinated quinoa an extra boost.  Unfortunately with the dryness, it was not known if the capsules would simply dry up and harden – trapping the sprouted seedlings.  The last planting had been done 5 days previously, with no rain in sight.  Traditionally, quinoa seeds could stay in dry soils for up to 3 weeks and still be viable when the rains came.  But it was unknown what an already sprouted seed would do in such drought conditions -Ayamaya’s current irrigation method was not set up to saturate the soils like rain does. Fingers crossed they get some rain!

We went on to examine the organic moth control system they had set up across the site.  This consisted of a 2-liter soda bottle bottom affixed to a plastic trap that consisted of a covered top, a pheromone plug made in a European laboratory, and a cross section that led male moths to a funnel and into he soda bottle bottom where they became trapped.  Traps were hung on metal wire hangers and placed at about 2 per every acre (4 per ha).  The cost $2.5 and were currently being distributed by PROIMPA, a Bolivia counterpart of mine and agronomy NGO.

After driving around the site a bit, we packed up and headed back to the city.  All a bit more quiet and pensive as the unknown consequences of the lack of rain fell heavily on the project developers.