Quinoa in Ecuador is pronounced keen-wá. Quinoa grows in the cool mountainous country of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Quinoa is a seed grain that has been cultivated in the Andean region for over 7,000 years and was considered sacred by the Inca Empire. It was later replaced almost completely by cereals such as barley, wheat, potatoes and corn. But most of these crops did not do well in the high Andes, and they were mostly subject to the whims of the international markets.
Quinoa in Ecuador is available in most Super Maxi supermarkets and also at the various fresh markets. This seed is light, tasty, easy to digest, gluten free, and blends well with other ingredients.
In response to the poor yield from non-native crops, US pesticide and fertilizer manufacturers led an aggressive campaign in the region with the support of the government and governmental agencies. Pesticide and fertilizer use in Ecuador increased dramatically over the years leading to depleted soil and a rise in associated health problems. In fact, DDT, supplied by a US company, is still being used on Ecuador's agricultural land.
This story is about farming families in the Chimborazo Province, in a village called Los Angeles de Colta. The altitude is about 10,000 feet. The area is near the city of Riobamba – part-way between Quito and Cuenca.
Not long ago, the crops of Los Angeles were no different than those of the rest of the Ecuadorian agricultural industry. The farmers' yields were low, their return was almost non-existent, and their children were suffering from malnutrition.
In 1998, twelve Los Angeles de Colta families agreed to cultivate quinoa in the traditional organic way for a group called the Heirloom Quinoa Project. The Project is the cooperative effort of four international organizations: The People's Educational Radio of Ecuador (ERPE), a progressive radio station dedicated to education and social service; Germany's Bio Control System (BCS), a global organic certification organization; the Canadian Development Fund, a fund for Ecuadorian development based in Canada; and Chicago's Inca Organics, the distributor and marketer of the finished product.
In fact it was retired Chicago couple, Bob and Maggi Leventry, who founded Inca Organics and started the whole program. They had spent three years in Ecuador in the Peace Corp after they retired. Maggi, a dietician, became very interested in Quinoa. In 1997 they then joined with another volunteer to put the parties together to get the Heirloom Quinoa Project started. The standard of living in the local villages has risen, and so has the standard of health.
The income of the12 families was 50% higher in the first year than the other farmers simply by growing organic quinoa. In the following year, 36 families joined the program and in 2000, there were 51 families growing for the Heirloom Quinoa Project. By 2003, 4025 families in four provinces of Ecuador were planting over 2800 acres of Quinoa to produce over 400 metric tons of organic heirloom quinoa for exportation – with about one-third more being consumed by the families themselves.
The Heirloom Project insisted that one-third of production be retained for home consumption. Malnutrition is now virtually non-existent – down from 74% before the project started. I think that is an amazing achievement in such a short space of time.
It shows what the power of just a small number of people can do. Just think what a difference we could make if there were more Bob and Maggi Leventry’s in this country.
Compost is used as the organic fertilizer, after it has been passed through large worm farms. Yields have increased from 1,000 kg per hectare to 1,400 kg/ha by using worm castings as organic fertilizer. And the quinoa is rotated with lupins, legumes to put nitrogen back into the soil. In addition, amaranth is grown to supplement the diets, and to sell excess production.
So if you want to try Quinoa, and make it a staple part of your diet to improve cardiovascular issues, diabetes or migraines, or use it to lose weight, just check out the books that have been written on this Andean product.