"Andean quinoa producers run the risk of being uncompetitive in the world market"

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By Nylva Hiruelas

The millennial ‘golden grain’ of the Andes, without a doubt, has gone through a meteoric rise that has promoted Peru as the leading producer of this cereal. However, for a few years, the production of this humble seed has been moving away from its place of origin and it is beginning to be cultivated in Europe, the United States and even China, affecting the income of farmers who never managed to take off economically. An innovative United Nations program launched since 2015 in the regions of Puno and Ayacucho encourages the production of organic quinoa through cooperatives to sell it in international markets at a better price and with a quality seal. Miguel Maldonado, program coordinator, explains the contribution of this program to the reduction of poverty.

This program set out to strengthen the value chain of organic quinoa. What potential does quinoa production have as a lever for the development of producers?

The value chain of quinoa brings together many small producers in a situation of poverty, therefore, helping to produce more effectively and efficiently has an impact on improving the quality of life of farmers. In addition, this chain is special, since it has a very high nutritional value and enjoys a very good position at the international level. In fact, it is thought that in the future this grain could become a commodity given that its cultivation has begun years ago in many countries that surpass ours in agricultural technology. Therefore, it is logical to assume that our Andean producers run the risk of being uncompetitive in the face of a possible growth in world supply.

The pioneering nature of this project lies in the fact that it has involved the work of three United Nations agencies, FAO, UNESCO and ILO, combining their specialties to achieve an improvement in the quality of life of Andean grain producers. One of the greatest achievements is the commercial articulation of 154 metric tons of quinoa with an improvement of 13%, over market prices, benefiting 200 producers and the training of more than 1000 producers.

How can national quinoa compete in the world market?

The cultural richness of Andean quinoa can help us to differentiate our product from other international competitors. This seed was cultivated for the first time 7 thousand years ago by pre-Columbian settlers and ancestral knowledge about the breeding, use and forms of consumption of quinoa is preserved to this day. The peasants use elements of their worldview to cultivate, knowledge that is necessary to rescue (work that UNESCO has done in the program) not only because it is part of our cultural heritage but because it can help us to differentiate ourselves in the international market.

How has this project managed to contribute to the reduction of poverty of the peasants?

On the one hand, the program set out to improve production. To do this, we implemented an organic production program and an internal control system by training 50 producers as organic certification auditors. In addition, the creation of 10 Credit and Savings Unions has been promoted, which have provided 143 women producers to collective financing with a capital accumulation of more than 100,000 Soles.

On the other hand, it has sought to articulate the producer with the market, for this it has tried to improve the associativity of producers through training in the cooperative model. The producers have participated in the expoalimentaria fair, in a business conference in Mexico, have been trained in foreign trade in Uruguay and are going to participate in a trade mission in Brazil, which is a very interesting market for organic quinoa from Peru.

The wealth of this program lies in having sought to involve as many chain actors as possible. We have articulated with the Ministry of Agriculture, Promperú, other organizations and local actors.

What cooperatives in Puno or Ayacucho have managed to enter the market?

In Ayacucho we have the example of the “Campo Verde” cooperative in the Acos Vinchos district, which has managed to sell quinoa in Gastón Acurio's Tanta restaurant, in ecological stores in Lima and in other markets. The support of the program will facilitate the strengthening of this cooperative in the market since it has worked on the design and implementation of a small industrial processing plant with which they will be able to sell quinoa and kiwicha energy bars, as well as the strengthening of the technical capacities of their associates. In addition, the program has supported the development of a business plan and a marketing plan that foresees that its sales will increase from 68,000 soles in 2015 to 140,000 soles in 2017.

In Puno, the Aynoka brand is being supported, an initiative of its producers that emerged as a reaction to the problem that arose during 2013 and 2014 when lots of national quinoa were rejected abroad because they contained traces of chemicals. The launch of the brand was a great step, however, it is insufficient, therefore the program is supporting the implementation of quality standards. For this, a diagnosis and a plan for the implementation of standardized quality and traceability systems is being prepared.

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