The Inside Scoop on Quinoa

Today, we visited the Jacha Inti (Andean Naturals in the U.S.) quinoa processing plant. We learned so much about Quinoa. First, there are 3 different colors: golden, red and black. Quinoa also comes in 2 different types: Royal and Common (small). Royal quinoa is grown in the traditional growing areas around the salt lake of Uyuni (in southern Bolivia) and the Common quinoa is grown around Puno (Peru) and Lake Titicaca. The Common quinoa is sweeter and has less saponin, which gives the quinoa its bitter taste. Quinoa Royal grows around Oruro and Potosi and there have recently been land conflicts over 10 km of land around the borders of both states.

Usually in the traditional growing areas (near the salt flats of Uyuni) quinoa is grown by families and small plot farmers. These lands are individually owned.

In 2008 the export price was $1,200 USD per metric ton. Today, a metric ton of quinoa for export is priced around $3,000 USD. Quinoa farmers are making a lot more money with their crops now, due to the increased demand from western countries.

The traditional growing areas have very salty land, and it’s very arid, so nothing else grows. Usually the farmers just had quinoa plots and llamas. In the non-traditional growing areas farmers also grow potatoes and barley. The problem is that due to the increased price of quinoa in the market, farmers are starting to use the land where they previously herded llamas but now grow quinoa. The issue here is that now, these farmers don’t have llama manure to fertilize their land (how it was done traditionally) and they are starting to buy the llama manure. Llamas are slowly becoming scarce and their number has been dwindling, and their manure has gone up in price significantly. Ideally, the quinoa producers should have a balanced number of llamas per hectare.

Few options have popped up. Jacha Inti has been using Humita 15 (an imported organic fertilizer) and they have had very good results with it. They increased the yield from 600 kg of quinoa per hectare to 1.5 tons of quinoa per hectare. Humita 15, combined with llama manure has yielded exceptional results. The issue with Humita 15 is that it’s liquid, and famers are looking for a complement that will also add structure to the soil.

Sheep and cow dung is available in the market. This comes from the surrounding areas of Lake Titicaca and it’s cheap and available. The problem is that it has not been very good on the quinoa plants (burns). Farmers in the non-traditional areas are using this more than in the traditional areas.

We toured the processing plant today; we watched how the bitter saponin covering quinoa is removed by tumbling followed by a triple wash process. We also toured their quality control and inspection unit. Each lot of quinoa is carefully inspected, cleaned and any impurities are removed before it is approved for export. Jacha Inti’s plant in La Paz is a green-energy facility (hybrid solar/gas) in Bolivia.

On Tuesday, we will visit the farm APROCAY, located in the community of Quillacas, where there recently were land disagreements. We will meet with Efrain Huaynas, a farmer who used llama manure and he yielded 2 tons of quinoa per hectare.

Jacha Inti is now exporting 12 shipping containers per month; this is 240 metric tons of organically certified quinoa going to the USA each month, through San Francisco. The prices of organic Quinoa are led by the conventional prices (non-organic) defined in the Challapata market. The organic prices are always higher than the conventional prices due to the premium demanded for growing organically.


About Siembra Orgánica

This is a blog about the venture launch of an organic fertilizer business to help organic quinoa farmers in Bolivia created by three Colorado State University MBA Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise students. We will post updates on our travels and research in Bolivia this summer and our adventures in bringing this idea into reality. We are passionate about helping rural Bolivian organic farmers and believe that helping provide essential agricultural inputs will change their lives for the better.
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