LEADERSHIP & WELL-BEING IN BOLIVIA'S QUINOA FIELDS

Join me on a 60-day Journey through Bolivia's quinoa summer growing season with Tamara as she conducts Stage II of her Fulbright research. Now that the world markets have crashed and wind and hail destroyed 28% of last year's crop - what does the future of quinoa hold for today's farmers?

Day 5 – The importance of Fair Trade & Organic

Day 5 – The importance of Fair Trade & Organic

As quinoa matures in its market cycle becoming more plentiful and well known, consumers are beginning to take notice of different options they have: conventional, organic, fair trade.  Up until now price-wise all were mostly equal.  But now that Peru’s cheaper agro-chemical industrial farmed quinoa has flooded the market, buyers are taking note of these differences.  I talked ot my local co-op bulk buyer about this the other day.  Here’s what he had to say…

The co-op can tolerate some price fluctuations in the quinoa and prefers organic and fair trade options over conventional quinoa thought at different rates and for different reasons. The buyer believes his quinoa consumers in particular are very health conscious and will purposely seek out organic quinoa. He also feels that the product’s taste, it being an alternative to gluten and not containing arsenic (which gluten free rice sometimes has) also makes it appealing to his customers. Because of this, the co-op buyer believes he can tolerate a 33% to 50% price difference for a conversional versus organic quinoa variety meaning that even when conventional quinoa becomes available on the market (UNFI the supplier, does not currently carry conventional quinoa), unless it is heavily discounted, it will not be worthwhile for the co-op to purchase it. However, the buyer speculates that if there was an influx of much cheaper non organic quinoa in the market, he might carry some in lieu of the slower selling quinoa varieties he currently carries such as the black quinoa which he sells the least of.

 

Andean Naturals supports Fair Trade certified quinoa.

Andean Naturals supports Fair Trade certified quinoa.

Fair Trade, the co-op buyer feels, is a bit of a harder sell because of the lack of clarity as to what Fair Trade actually is and who is upholding the principles the best. He notes that though people are aware of the quality of life of others, what is most important to them is the quality of their food. Because of this, he fees he can accommodate a 10% price difference for an organic Fair Trade quinoa option (which does not exist in bulk quinoa yet) but would also have to have more literature or information explaining the Fair Trade difference in a more transparent way.

Day 4 – Following the value chain… Step 1 Demand

Day 4 – Following the value chain… Step 1 Demand

Value chain mapping takes a product from its place of sale to its place of origin seeing how transactions and relationships form throughout the process by asking the question, “why?”  This often leads to new insights as to how partners can work together better and more creatively.   In value chain mapping, the first step involves the invisible buyers, the retail outlets that make product available to the public. In our case this is the Brattleboro Food Co-op. Yesterday I interviewed the co-op buyer to find out about his role in the value chain and what buying quinoa meant to him. Here’s what I learned:

Quinoa sold in bulk at the co-op.

Quinoa sold in bulk at the co-op.

A 25 pound sack of organic white quinoa real (pronounced ree’-al) from Bolivia is sold loose at $6.69 a pound. (While we’re thinking of pronounciation, quinoa is pronounced: keen’-o-ah).  The co-op bulk buyer purchases red, black and mixed quinoa, though the white quinoa  is the most popular. For simplicity, this study follows the more popular USDA certified organic quinoa real. The sack of quinoa I am tracking was purchased from United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) in May 2015 for $88.85, representing a $167 retail value for the co-op. This 47% mark up is typical for the products sold in bulk . Each week the co-op purchases about one to two sacks of quinoa real from UNFI. In total about six bags (151 pounds) of quinoa real were sold in loose bulk at the co-op for the month of May, representing 118 individual transactions at an average of 1.3 pounds each with a retail cost of $8.70. The co-op buyer reports that loose quinoa sales and prices, both wholesale and retail, have stayed steady at the co-op over the past year or so.

Tomorrow’s post: The co-op quinoa buyer talks about the difference between organic, fair trade and conventional quinoa, costs and consumer demand.

Day 3 – The Bolivians are NOT starving because people are eating quinoa

Day 3 – The Bolivians are NOT starving because people are eating quinoa

Growth in quinoa production.

Growth in quinoa production.

It has been erroneously reported that the raising cost of quinoa has resulted in quinoa shortages in country and Bolivian’s not having enough nutritious grain to eat themselves. Don’t worry. It’s actually the opposite which is true.

Bolivia is consuming more qinuoa internally than ever before.

Once shunned as a “backward food from the countryside” and banned by the Spanish, quinoa is now in mode in Bolivia as even wealthy elites are consuming it regularly.

In the countryside, people grow their own quinoa as subsistence farmers. This production never makes it onto the market because it is used for the families’ own consumption. The government is also buying vast amounts of quinoa to make into cookies and nutrituous melas for free public school lunches.  So there is plenty of affordable access to quinoa for Bolivia and they are consuming more of that grain now than ever before.

As one farmer said, “please keep buying and eating our quinoa, we need the money and we have plenty of grain.”

Day 2 – How I got here in the first place: Fulbright research

Day 2 – How I got here in the first place: Fulbright research

So how did I get into this project in the first place?  Here is my Fulbright research proposal.  I will have three years to travel from the US to Bolivia in 3-month intervals to study the effect of quinoa production on the Andean woman.

Oh, and who am I?  I’m social scientist and business developer specializing in economics and sustainable development.  For the last 10 years I’ve also been a university professor.  I’ve lived and worked in Bolivia for the past 18 years.  My two children are half Bolivian and though their  Bolivian grandma grows quinoa for the family, she is not a commercial prducer.  I have not been in the quinoa growing region I’ll be studying in over 10 years.  People tell me it has changed a lot!

Gender and Sustainable Development in Bolivia.

A comparative study of the impact of Fair Trade, organic certification and conventional production on the well-being of women quinoa farmers and their families.

Summary of Project Statement

Conducting a comparative study of Bolivia’s Fair Trade, organic and agrochemical quinoa production creates a deeper understanding of the effects that different modes of production have on family, sustainable development and well-being. Bolivia provides 45% of the world supply of quinoa with exports growing from 1,500 tonnes in 1999 to 29,500 tonnes in 2013, the International Year of Quinoa, making it the world’s second largest quinoa producer (FAO, 2013). I am interested in this Fulbright award and teaming with Bolivian academics and producers because as an American sustainability scholar and published author, I am ideally suited to conduct this study. This study contributes to my understanding of techniques and strategies for sustainable development, improves my teaching and will be published in my next book.

Day 1 – Following the Quinoa Trail!

Day 1 – Following the Quinoa Trail!

Quinoa sack from the Brattleboro Food Co-op.

Quinoa sack from the Brattleboro Food Co-op.

Here I am at the Brattleboro Food Coop – our local food coop which has been selling organic Bolivian quinoa in bulk and as a packaged good for over 10 years.  And here is a sack of organic quinoa from Bolivia that in May 2015 was poured into a bin for bulk sales to consumers (retail).

Starting July 1st, I will travel to Bolivia with the empty quinoa sack from the Brattleboro Food Co-op, looking to find the producers who filled it back in November 2014 and trace the value chain of this ancient grain.  How did it get here, by whom, at what cost?  Where are the women in this and how are they effected as world demand and value of this native grain grows?  And what is the future for Bolivia – the native home of hand harvested, small scale quinoa production? Come join me on this 70 day journey!

This is me in 2010, when I was studying the effect of Fair Trade knitting and weaving on Bolivian women for my doctoral thesis.  The results of this study and another one in 2012 that looked at the effect of Fair Trade coffee growing on Bolivian women is found in my latest book.

Me and the UMA (union mujer andina) weavers, El Alto, Bolivia, 2010

Me and the UMA (union mujer andina) weavers, El Alto, Bolivia, 2010