4. Quinoa commercialization in Bolivia

Quinoa Sifting

Ashlee Adams and Samuel Mamani, her translator, winnow the quinoa to remove chaff and pebbles.


Immediate returns need not replace the longevity of the entire system


In recent years, quinoa has risen to the fore in the minds and on the plates of health-conscious consumers in the United States and Western Europe. It is lauded for its exceptional nutritional quality and other natural characteristics, such as its complete lack of gluten, that fit the profile of current trends in healthy cuisine. As a result of this new market for a traditional subsistence food, quinoa farmers are earning higher incomes.


But this boom has its critics. Some claim that as demand in wealthy countries grows, it takes quinoa out of the mouths of Andean farmers who produce it, creates adverse environmental impacts, such as soil degradation, salinization, and erosion, etc, and threatens agribiodiversity.

However, examined in a more long-term and global context, the quinoa quick-fix may jeopardize farmers’ resilience and development outcomes in the future. Ashlee Adams went to Bolivia in the summer of 2014 to observe how two farming communities there are responding to the quinoa boom.

“My results confirm that quinoa producers in Bolivia are responding to market pressures as determined by the preferences and expectations of consumers in the destination country,” Adams explains. “Most farmers in reported that while in the past they saved seeds, they are now predominantly sourcing from PROINPA [a Bolivian agricultural extension service] and from seed distributors in larger city markets” This shift results in a loss of seed biodiversity and crop resilience.

“This work speaks to a larger problem in which historically remote communities begin to participate in larger markets through the sale and production of high-value indigenous products, particularly those that provide immeasurable ecosystem services and reduce vulnerability to shocks through biodiversity. NGOs and extension services like PROINPA can learn from this study and integrate the findings into their extension strategies. By encouraging farmers to adopt a mixed method of planting—producing non-native, high-value crops for cash and continuing to sow native varieties—these organizations can help to promote short-term income gains without sacrificing long-term resilience. Immediate returns need not replace the longevity of the entire system.”

A second recommendation for circumventing biodiversity erosion in the presence of market pressures would be to improve infrastructure for processing quinoa. Domestic processing centers built near producers and tailored to wash and sort varied quinoa seeds would increase and sustain demand for a multitude of varieties and create tiered supply for varied markets. Additional factories could produce value-added products from the “wastes” such as commercial detergents made from the leftover saponin (soapy residue) from the grains.