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Bolivians have lived off the Andean plant quinoa for centuries, but recent "discovery" by nutrition-hungry American and European consumers has hurt access for the small farmers who produce it, says a recent article in the New York Times.

A chenopod related to species like beets and spinach, NASA scientists recently touted its exceptional balance of protein and amino acids as virtually unrivaled in the plant or animal kingdom for its life-sustaining nutrients.

The good news: Increased demand has helped raise farmers' incomes in one of the hemisphere's poorest countries. Bolivian laborers who had traveled to cities or to Argentina and Chile for paychecks are now able to return to work their land and make a fair living raising quinoa.

The bad news: Fewer Bolivians can now afford it, hastening their embrace of cheaper, processed foods and raising fears of malnutrition in a country that has long struggled with it.

President Evo Morales said he planned to make more than $10 million in loans available to quinoa producers, and health officials are incorporating the plant into foods supplied to thousands of pregnant and nursing women each month.

Marcelo Alvarez of Heifer Bolivia says that as prices increase, the indigenous people (Aymara and Quechua) who traditionally grew and consumed quinoa and others who used to eat it regularly now prefer rice and noodles.

Heifer Bolivia continues to work with its partner the Bolivian Center of Educational Research and Action in El Alto, Bolivia to educate urban children about the nutritional benefits of traditional foods such as quinoa over processed foods. Rising prices that discourage healthy eating make our work even more challenging.

“We work with parents, teachers and students,” says Nora Mengoa, the educational research center’s project coordinator. “We pass on the gift of knowledge; we try to change their eating habits which aren’t serving them now.”

Read more about Heifer projects in Bolivia in a previous World Ark article here.


Donna Stokes

Donna Stokes is the managing editor of World Ark magazine. She has worked for Heifer International since September 2008 when she leaped over to the nonprofit world from a two-decade career in newspaper journalism.