Day 11 – The Legend of the Quinoa

Day 11 – The Legend of the Quinoa

Where did quinoa come from? This is an ancient Aymara legend that tells where quinoa came from as told by storyteller, Edgar Quispe Chambi (and translated by me).

In times long ago the Aymara people talked with the stars. They lived along the shores of Lake Titicaca where they first began cultivating potatoes on raised beds built along the shoreline. A young teenage boy guarded the raised beds at night to make sure no one stole the crops. He had a bell to ring in case he found someone there. One night he came upon what he thought was a group robbers, so he rang his warning bell. The “robbers” all left except for one, which he captured. It was a beautiful young maiden who glowed with starlight. (Remember the Aymara people knew how to talk with the stars.) The young maiden however, turned into a bird and went where the others had gone, up the sky to join the stars.

condor

Andean Condor

As the farmers, woken by the ringing of the bell arrived, the boy stayed gazing at the sky, admiring what he had seen. He could not explain to the others what had happened. The next day he sought out a condor, a great Bolivian bird of prey and spirit animal. He climbed the highest mountain cliffs in search of this bird. He wanted the condor to take him to the stars. The condor understood and took the teenage boy to the stars on his back. They arrived at a star which was a land covered in fields of golden grains. There the boy found the young maiden from the night before. The two played together in the fields. Fields of quinoa! The star maiden invited the boy to eat the quinoa. The boy had never seen this grain before. “What is this?” he asked.

And so he stayed there and lived on the quinoa. But one day he wanted to return to earth to visit his parents. He wanted them to know he was OK and wanted to know that they were OK too. The condor sensing his wishes, returned. The teenage boy climbed on his back once more. Before the left, the star maiden gave the boy a sack of quinoa to bring back to his village. The boy left the star and soared over the land on the back of the great bird, scattering seeds of quinoa as he went.

Since then quinoa has served as a food for the Andean village, a product that until recently was unknown by the rest of humanity. Quinoa is life. Quinoa is hope. Quinoa is the past. Quinoa is the present. Quinoa is the future of humanity.

Day 10 – Some quick quinoa facts…

Day 10 – Some quick quinoa facts…

Some quick quinoa facts as I wait for a data check on my Fair Trade quinoa post…

tons quyinoa consumedThe price of quinoa in the local market here in Bolivia has dropped more than 50% since last year’s highs of 1,200Bs (Bolivianos) a quintal just 500Bs a quintal ($.32 a pound).  Consumption jumped almost as fast as prices have fallen with 14,600 tons of quinoa being consumed in Bolivia last year.  Quinoa production is also at an all time high with almost 439,000 acres under cultivation, 10% more than the previous year. 

“This national and international promotion of the “golden grain” (quinoa) has pushed production and consumption of quinoa in this country and the rest of the world. And though this grain can be produced in other countries, none has the nutritional content of the grain produced in Bolivia.” Explained Edgar Solis yesterday, the Director of the International Center of Quinoa.  

CIQThe Centro Internacional de la Quinua-CIQ (or International Center of Quinoa) was created by direction of Bolivian law #395 as a way to unify and trademark Bolivian Quinoa as an original product of origin.

There are over 3,120 different types of quinoa in Bolivia with many different properties.  Some are high in oils, others high in protein, others low in calories, and some high in saponin a byproduct that has medical and biological uses.  Quinoa also comes in a full range of colors from white to golden yellow to bright pink, red, purple and the darkest black.

Hot quinua drink

Hot quinua drink

I enjoyed some hot quinoa drink (refresco de quinoa) this morning taking the bus from Cochabamba to Oruro to meet with Jorge Guzman plan the next part of my trip – the salt flats!  The drink is a warm, watery mixture of quinoa flavored with cinamon and sugar.  Delicious!

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