Here’s Why You Should Think Twice About Buying Cheap Quinoa

Inexpensive, factory-farmed, pesticide-laced quinoa from Peru is driving small-scale organic growers in Bolivia out of business.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Nov 29, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Quinoa. That protein-packed pseudo cereal that continues to thrive in an otherwise sugar-obsessed society. What’s not to love?

Well, besides threatening biodiversity in the Andes because of increased production, international demand is pitting Bolivia’s organic growers against agribusinesses that have recently proliferated in Peru.

Heavy pesticide use enables many Peruvian companies to sell cheaper quinoa. The country, which has doubled its production from 2013, is poised to overtake Bolivia as the world’s top exporter this year. A decade ago, Bolivia had 90 percent of the global market; Peru had 6 percent.

“[Peruvian businesses] are trying to force us to lower prices,” Bolivian farmer Reynaldo Mamani told The Associated Press. He grows larger, reddish-purple royal quinoa in the landlocked country’s highlands. While he uses pesticides, Mamani forgoes chemical fertilizers and uses llama manure instead.

Peruvians, on the other hand, are known for their white-seed coastal “sweet” quinoa, which is more likely to contain pesticide residues because it’s cultivated in areas where other crops used to grow.

“Bugs love quinoa,” said U.S. quinoa importer Sergeo Nunez de Arco. “That’s one reason why it does so well in the highlands, where there are fewer pests.”

According to Bolivian government officials, Peru has been smuggling its inorganic quinoa into the country to be blended with or sold as organic. Climate change has caused unpredictable weather in the highlands, but this tactic has also threatened the livelihood of Mamani and other farmers, forcing them to drop their prices. In a recent protest, he and 500 fellow quinoa growers demanded action from President Evo Morales, the AP reported.

What’s being done to fix the situation? Local authorities recently confiscated 23 metric tons of Peruvian quinoa near the border and set it on fire in a televised event. But Bolivian anthropologist Pablo Laguna told the AP that the government should work with growers to certify their product’s purity.

“It needs to demonstrate scientifically that is the best, because it’s difficult to tell by taste,” he said.

According to the Whole Grains Council, quinoa imports began to skyrocket in 2008, when they doubled from 2006. That was around the same time that Oprah Winfrey promoted the seed in a cleanse diet, and Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Costco began carrying it. It’s become so popular in the United States that 7-Eleven is considering stocking its shelves with the superfood.