Is the growing global demand for quinoa depriving locals of their food?

The Associated Press reports that quinoa now costs three times more than white rice in the markets in La Paz, Bolivia, the country where approximately half the world's supply of quinoa is now grown. Global demand for the grain-like seed has increased its prices, and experts believe this forces local growers to sell or trade the valuable crop while consuming cheaper and less nutritious alternatives like white rice. However, some say local farmers are using their increased income to switch from subsistence foods, like quinoa, to higher-status, "city" foods that are less nutritious.

Another concern is how expansion of quinoa production may harm the environment. More land for quinoa farming means less land for llama grazing, and llama manure is a key component for healthy soil. Many farmers are increasingly turning to use of chemical fertilizers, and some farmers are not properly rotating their crops, which can cause fertile land to transform into deserts.

While the situation may be complicated, a recent NPR article urges Americans to continue to eat their beloved quinoa guilt-free.

Rising prices of quinoa may be too expensive for poor people living in Bolivian cities, but according to anthropologist Pablo Laguna, quinoa is not traditionally a staple for city dwellers. Laguna also reveals that consumption of quinoa by local farmers has not diminished. Eduoard Rollet, co-founder of fair trade brand Alter Eco Foods, says that quinoa farmers typically set aside a portion of their harvest to eat themselves. Their increased income means they can now buy foods like tomatoes and salads, which they could not afford before.

In addition, NPR food and health correspondent Allison Aubrey adds that rising food prices are not specific to quinoa, as they have generally increased worldwide.

Check out the slideshow above to discover what's so great about quinoa and why Americans are obsessed with this superfood.

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Tags: Food Report, Gluten Free, Healthy, Vegetarian, Grain

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