DAY 51 –Quinoa Farmers are 20% worse off than last year

DAY 51 –Quinoa Farmers are 20% worse off than last year

Circles of SustainabilityBOL2017

Bolivia’s quinoa farmers are worse off economically with much lower market access – as reflected in the Circles of Susianabitliy survey. The orange expresses a time of extreme angst. Farmers’ feeling of having market access has decreased by 20% since 2015.

So today I presented the culmination of all studies, community visits, homestays, women’s discussion groups, and the quickly tabulated significant results of the Circles surveys at the Catholic University in La Paz, Bolivia.  About 60 people attended including quinoa farmers from Salinas and Uyuni, students, the press, and various organization and department directors.  Three farmers from Uyuni prepared organic handmade quinoa bread baked in their adobe, wood burning, community oven plus cookies and pito (and hand toasted, ground quinoa, powdered energy drink) …All featuring different varieties of quinoa with unique properties.

Varieties and properties were the theme of the presentation which recognized a significant decrease in farmers’ access to quinoa markets (20% less than 2015) and the ability to function in a quinoa-based economy (15% less than 2015).  Many farmers in Oruro had unsold quinoa in their homes while those in Potosi had none.  Quinoa was sold in small quantities on the common markets as cash was needed – for example people were selling sacks of quinoa to pay for school uniforms and books for the upcoming school year.

Running the numbers it is easy to see that quinoa farmers are quickly descending back into the abject poverty they rose from in 2007 with the world interest in quinoa – and new markets.  The current market price of 450 a quintal for fair trade, organic, Royal Quinoa is based on Peru’s cheaper conventional, industrialized quinoa which dominates the world markets.  This does not cover a farmer’s costs of production leaving them to operate at a loss.  Here’s why.

The inputs for quinoa production are large.  The average family of 5 is now cultivating just seven hectacres (21 acres) due to a combination of low market prices and poor climate conditions.  With the drought, erosion, pests, frost and hail – it is expected yields will be half of what they normally are – about 12 quintals per hectare (or 132 pounds per acre).  The total cost for producing these yields are as follows:

Inputs costs
Fertilizer  $1,049
Tractor  $857
Labor  $342
Pest control  $120
TOTAL  $2,368
net earnings

Boivian quinoa farers are now living on less than $2 a day.


The gross earnings a farmer gets form this production, assuming 100% is sold at the 450 price, is $5,326 (USD).  Minus the inputs mentioned in the table this leaves a net annual earnings of $3,013 or $281 a month which is less than $2 a day for a family of five – the average family size in the rural areas.  The per capita income in Bolivia is $7,191 which means that today’s quinoa farmers earn at less then half the average family household in Bolivia.

The quinoa regions are remote.  Besides raising llamas which people maintain for personal consumption, fertilizer for the quinoa and local market sales  – there are no other economies.  Other crops do not grow in the high, dry, mineralized soils.  There is no other industry.  Though there is electricity, cell service, drinking water, elementary schools and roads to most communities – the cities which have paying jobs are hours away on bus. Many children live in state run boarding schools for access to high school education in larger cities, fathers leave for Chile or the cities for more permanent work and mothers and more often grandmothers, are left alone with toddlers in the shrinking communities to tend to the llamas, fields, raise the little children, and maintain the family farming compound – alone.


Prices have plummetted leaving both farmers and their quinoa sales associations vulnerable and in crisis.

There is no market access for these communities.  In addition, the large associations which most farmers are members of, are in difficult times too.  Grower associations and cooperatives covered their costs by receiving a percentage of total sales in membership commissions.  With low prices and lower yields they are not making enough to cover their operating costs.  Many have expressive processing equipment they received through loans of over $100,000 which now need to be repaid.  They are operating at a loss, incurring debts and unable to pay their administrative costs.  In addition, there is shrinking market access for these associations – as more quinoa production is developed less expensively, externally in countries such as Peru but also in Canada, Australia, France, China, the Netherlands and the US, the demand for premium, hand grown organic Bolivian quinoa is shrinking.  So are the markets.  In 2016, US consumption of all quinoa dropped by almost 10% – the US is the world’s largest consumer of all quinoa.  So besides low prices, there is low demand too – many associations are waiting for orders, their warehouses full and members desperately waiting for payments for quinoa sold, often six months ago.  With no sales, there is no cash flow.