Deborah Andrews, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Florida used her Rothman Doctoral Fellowship to travel to the Puno region of Peru in summer 2014 to investigate whether or not globalization has negatively impacted the agro-diversity of local quinoa markets in the Peruvian Andes. Her investigation revealed that globalization has had limited negative impact on quinoa agro-diversity since the market initially favored white varieties but recently has embraced other colorful varieties, in particular red quinoa.
Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd) is a pseudo-cereal that originated in the Andes, a region that includes parts of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile. Quinoa has been a significant staple of the Andean diet for thousands of years and was considered sacred to the Incas, although there was a loss of production until the past two decades. Growing quinoa largely depends on local farmers. Traditionally, quinoa production depended on maintaining agro-diversity, or the amount of biodiversity within a species. Growing many colorful quinoa varieties was a practical method of hedging risk and guaranteeing crop production. On the other hand, globalization incentivizes local farmers to produce a consistent and homogenous product, in particular white quinoa, because difference in color raises questions of quality for global consumers.
Andrews’ research, however, indicates that quinoa has not become a completely homogenous product in Peru. In part, this is due to the lack of mechanization in the harvesting process: traditional quinoa growing practices have remained dominant. Also, farmers and quinoa distributors want to sell all of their quinoa, including colorful varieties, since it has become a valuable cash crop. Red varieties of quinoa have begun to appear on the global market indicating resistance to selling only white quinoa. This also shows that the global market is willing to purchase different quinoa varieties, which incentivizes maintaining agro-diversity. Although agro-diversity on the global market is rather small, nevertheless the trend seems to indicate that the market share for diverse varieties of quinoa is growing. So the huge global demand, coupled with the traditional production of diverse quinoa varieties, resulted in different varieties appearing on the global market despite the initial trend towards homogeneity.
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