With Quinoa, All’s Well Only If It Ends Well


A man holds Peruvian quinoa. New studies of detailed data gathered by Peru’s government find that the global quinoa boom really was good both for Peruvians — both those who grow it and those who eat it. Juan Karita/AP

Thanks to National Public Radion (USA)’s Salt program for this important update:

Your Quinoa Habit Really Did Help Peru’s Poor. But There’s Trouble Ahead

The price of quinoa tripled from 2006 to 2013 as America and Europe discovered this new superfood. That led to scary media reports that the people who grew it in the high Andes mountains of Bolivia and Peru could no longer afford to eat it. And while, as we reported, groups working on the ground tried to spread the word that your love of quinoa was actually helping Andean farmers, that was still anecdote, rather than evidence.

The lack of evidence didn’t seem right to Marc Bellemare, an agricultural economist at the University of Minnesota, or Seth Gitter, another economist at Towson University in Maryland. They hadn’t met, but Gitter knew of a data source that could provide solid evidence, and the two teamed up. They recently published their results in a working paper.

The data source is ENAHO, the national survey of about 22,000 randomly-selected households that the government of Peru carries out every year and that covers a huge range of information about what households grow, spend and eat.

“ENAHO is very rich,” Bellemare tells The Salt, “but it is a beast to work with.”

He and Gitter enlisted Johanna Fajardo-Gonzalez, a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota, to clean up 10 years’ worth of data, which covers the boom and a few years before prices started to climb.

They split the households into three groups: those who grow and eat quinoa, those who eat it but do not grow it, and those who neither grow nor eat quinoa. All three showed a clear rise in their welfare – measured as the total value of goods consumed – as the price of quinoa rose. That reflects increasing living standards in Peru. But at the height of the boom, the welfare of quinoa growers increased more rapidly than the other two groups.

As for people who eat but don’t grow quinoa? They are roughly twice as well-off as those who grow it. The amount they bought dropped slightly, but not much. They could still afford it, even at the height of the boom.

The working paper does not mince words: “The claim that rising quinoa prices were hurting those who had traditionally produced and consumed it [is] patently false.”

“It’s really a happy story,” Seth Gitter tells us. “The poorest people got the gains.” Rich people had to spend a bit more, and did.

What About Nutrition?

While economists are perfectly happy with the idea that the value of goods people consume is a reasonable measure of their welfare, it does miss some important factors, like nutrition. Perhaps, as scaremongers suggested, poor farmers were selling quinoa they might have eaten and buying cheaper but nutritionally inferior foods with the proceeds, consuming more but worse food…

Read the whole article here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s