Archives for July 15, 2018

Day 14 – Pregnant?  Drink Quinoa Milk!

Day 14 – Pregnant?  Drink Quinoa Milk!

In 2015 the European Community working with social investment organization Pro Bolivia run by Bolivia’s Ministry of Productive Development and Plural Economy and partner, Foundation FAUTAPO, a Bolivian foundation formed in 2005 with help from the Dutch embassy, helped open the world’s first quinoa processing plant here in Uyuni. Costing $160,000, the quinoa milk processing plant was 80% funded by the European Community and 20% funded through FAUTAPO.  The local quinoa growers cooperative, Central de Cooperativa Agropecuarias Operación Tierra (CECAOT), was chosen as the recipient of the plant.

Today the plant makes quinoa milk for the national pregnant and lactating moms program – providing organic quinoa milk to moms across the nation.  The first year of the program went well and the product in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavors, has been well received.  CECOAT just got its quinoa milk contract renewed with the national government for another year, proudly explained cooperative treasurer, Lourdes Ticona.  Today I am meeting with Ticona, the treasurer of this 280-member cooperative.  CECAOT is formed by 12 smaller cooperatives who each are members of CECOAT.  Founded in 1973, it is one of Bolivia’s oldest cooperative organizations.  It is managed by a 50-50 balance of men and women leaders.  Ticona herself is the daughter of quinoa growers and her father was a member of CECOAT.  Before being voted as Treasurer, Ticona spent three years working with micro-credit loans and worked 8 years at CECOAT as well.

The CECOAT quinoa milk contains many amino acids, mainly lysine, which in children, helps memory retention by multiplying brain cells, according to the US National Academy of Sciences.  Public schools in Bolivia provide this to children as part of their school breakfast – especially in the ColchaK region where much of the quinoa is grown.  The milk is essentially made with quinoa, sugar and colorants, explained Ticona.  It stays fresh in sealed packages for 15 days without refrigeration and 3 to 6 months with refrigeration. Costing just $.20 for a 50ml. pouch of milk, this is an affordable snack for Bolivia’s school children.  Many Bolivian mayors are contracting CECOAT’s quinoa milk this as part of their school breakfasts.  Besides making milk, CECOAT also makes quinoa bread, cookies and cakes.  In all, this consumes about 10-15% of their annual quinoa production, explained Ticona.  The rest is exported under Fair Trade and organic certificates which CECOAT manages with the strictest controls.  “It’s easy for us to manage our certificates,” explained Ticona, “working ins mall cooperatives we are able to verify all of the norms of production for each producer.”  CECOAT also have a team of ag. technicians who help with production and a Committee of Control with a Vice President who is a part of the CECOAT board.

I remembered several times, years ago, when CECOAT was struggling with its leadership and development. I asked Ticona about this and she agreed, CECOAT had gone through some rough times.  Working as a cooperative, she explained sometimes this happens. However, the cooperative structure demands that members work together.  In time leadership changed and now the organization is in a period of strength and growth.  They are hoping to close a deal on 8,000 quintals (661 US tons) of quinoa that they recently got a contract for from a Peruvian trade show.  They are waiting for the laboratory analysis to come back to confirm the organic nature of the quinoa.  CECOAT pays $3,000 a year for their organic certificate from IMO Cert.  Ticona feels confident their quinoa will come back with a clean laboratory review and will be accepted for the organic, Fair Trade quinoa contract.

Day 13 – Visiting Oscar – a US quinoa exporter in Uyuni – Real Andina

Day 13 – Visiting Oscar – a US quinoa exporter in Uyuni – Real Andina

Visiting with Oscar Mamani Ramos is like meeting with a long-lost uncle.  His affable, personal manner makes him easy to talk to and work with.  He is a creative entrepreneur who grew up as a quinoa producer in the Nor Lipez region of Southeast Potosi.  For years he held the reigns at ANAPQUI, the large quinoa cooperative in which he was a member.  He fought to keep Bolivian quinoa in Bolivia – when agronomists at the University of Colorado tried to patent Bolivian varieties of the seed in 1996.  And he fights now to keep quinoa clean, organic and benefitting the producers from his regions.  He maintains an organic certification and attends international trade shows including Expo East in the US and Bio Faq in Germany – the two biggest natural foods trade shows.  He is a mid-sized exporter having shipped 18 containers of quinoa in 2015 at the height of the quinoa boom and 12 containers in 2017.

Ramos’ customers are from Canada, the US and Australia and he works with private label, small orders and specialty goods.  His latest venture has been into Tarija’s pink salts, similar to the popular pink slats from Tibet in the US.

I introduced the idea of selling quinoa by varieties.  He showed me the varieties he was unloading from a shipment in from Nor Lipez at the moment.  The farmers were there to assist with the transportation. They proudly opened their bags to show the robust seed, talk about the quinoa varieties, and quality of the harvest.

I liked that Ramos, like the few other mid-sized quinoa exporters I had met over the years, had strong direct ties to the producers in his home community and kept his production local, right in Uyuni, the land of the quinoa growers.  In contrast, large quinoa exporters have usually located hundreds of miles away in La Paz and do not have a strong direct contact with the quinoa producers and often do not share a family connection either.

Ramos showed us his quinoa cleaning facility – complete with optical and magnetic sorters, a two-stage saponin removal system – both dry and wet, professional drying equipment – to keep quinoa at its required 10% humidity, and its well-managed storerooms.  A shipment of quinoa was being readied for Australia.

I stepped out of my role as an economic researcher, as that this project was now nearing its end and I saw opportunities to do more with the information I have learned.  I told Ramos of my idea to offer quinoa by varieties in the US but by starting small first, with a few sacks of cleaned, sorted product to get started with instead of a container.  It would be a great project for my Entrepreneurship students at Landmark College where I was now assistant faculty.  He felt that was a marvelous idea and said he often sent containers with mixed product to the US – for example, the pink salts.  Ramos offered to put me in contact with his US clients to see if we could coordinate something.  I look forward to following up on this.