This afternoon we had an extremely informative meeting with Boris Fernandez from USAID´s International Food Security (IFS) program team. Fernandez specializes in climate change and biodiversity programs and recently has been working on two very relevant projects regarding quinoa and organic fertilzer in the Altiplano. He confirmed much of our research about the dire need for sustainable farming practices in the Altiplano as the worldwide demand for organic quinoa intensifies.
Fernandez explained to us that approximately 52,000 hectares of land in Bolivia are under the cultivation of quinoa. Approximately 90% of this land is being cultivated by small farmers (5-300 hecatres), with the majority farming on well under 300 hectares. On these small producer farms, quinoa production is considered traditional, meaning all of the planting, managment and harvest of quinoa is done by hand and is an extremely labor and time intensive process. One of the IFS´s projects is working with these small holder producers by developing packages of organic inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. We found out that indeed there is a company that is producing organic fertilizer commercially for these quinoa farmers. Regardless of whether they will be our competition or collborators, we are thrilled that Fernandez is going to put in touch with them so that we can learn from their experience. They are based in Cochabamba, which is a seven hour drive away (or short flight) from La Paz so we may or may not get to visit their factory.
However, we also learned another entirely different side of the whole equation and that is the potential for quinoa cultivation at a large industrial scale. IFS is also working on a project with an organization called CPTS -Centro de Promocion de Technologias Sostenibles or the Center for the Promotion of Sustainable Technololgy. Friday we will be meeting with the director of this organization and will share more details when we get them then but for now we know they are developing machinery and methodology for large scale production of organic qunioa. Utilizing these methods, Fernandez estimates quinoa production in Bolivia could grow from 52,000 hectares to 8.6 million hectares – all of which would be organic.
Now, this sounds appealing given that would mean lots of customers for organic fertilizer. Unfortunately, Fernandez confirmed our own biggest fear, that there simply is not enough organic animal waste in Bolivia to reach such scale. He says that the market gaps does not lie in creating a commerical fertilizer business, since there are a few out there, but the real market opportunity lies in finding enough raw material. For now, we might be able to create a small, community based enterprise based on PCI´s llama manure, but that is only a dent in what is needed to solve sustainability issues facing the growing demand for organic quinoa.
Finally, we wanted to share one more interesting piece to the puzzle we have learned this week and that is the growing land rights conflicts that are happening in quinoa growing areas. Much of the land on which quinoa is cultivated is rented out and as the price for quinoa soars, owners and renters are increasingly in conflict over rights to this land. There are also tensions along the Bolivia border with Peru quinoa land rights. We can provide more details on this topic when we visit the quinoa cultivation regions but for now, here are two recent interesting articles on this topic:
Tomorrow is going to be another full day of learning since we are finally meeting with Andean Naturals our quinoa exporting partner and will have the chance to tour a quinoa production facility outside La Paz!