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The trouble with quinoa

by Luigi Guarino on June 14, 2016

Worldwide Evaluation of Quinoa: Preliminary Results from Post International Year of Quinoa FAO Projects in 9 Countries.” The title sounded promising enough. At last, something scientifically worthwhile emerging from one of those international years. Nineteen sites, 21 genotypes, a few winners: well worth having.

But have a look at the materials part of the materials and methods section. Read it and weep.

Due to the difficulties to access quinoa germplasm at global level, each country made specific requests through its networks. FAO has mobilized various partnerships to collect different quinoa accessions to carry out the study. First, through a collaboration with the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA, a non-profit International Organization) — a research center based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — FAO could access specific varieties of quinoa. Seeds of the three varieties under development (Q1, Q2 and Q3) were obtained from ICBA to be made available for the trials in Yemen. FAO has also received seeds from the Centro di Ricerca per la Cerealicoltura (CRA-CER) in Italy which helped to expand the genotypes proposed in the tests. The seeds of nine accessions of landraces (Q12 to Q31) were obtained from CRA-CER who has been working and selecting these accessions in Italy after accessing them from the United States Department of Agriculture genebanks (USDA). These seeds had Chilean origin. Seeds were supplied to FAO-RNE which has distributed them to eight countries in the region. The two quinoa varieties (Sajama and Santamaria) were provided by PROINPA in Bolivia to the Seed & Plant Improvement Institute (SPII) in Iran. Selected seeds of early matured plants from the genotype “Sajama” have produced a new variety that was called “Iranshahr”. Giza1 and Giza2 have been selected in Egypt from preliminary quinoa lines furnished by the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Finally, Puno and Titicaca are two varieties of the Quinoa Quality Enterprise linked to the University of Copenhagen (Denmark). Regalona is the only quinoa variety with PVP developed by Von Baer Seeds for the Southern part of Chile (Von Baer et al, 2009). Finally, each country could choose from over 21 fairly differentiated genotypes.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, no less, tries to put together an international multilocational quinoa evaluation trial during the International Year of Quinoa, no less, and it has to go through all these hoops, and in the end this is the best it can do in terms of putting together a diverse set of landrace and improved germplasm for testing? There may be up to 3000 quinoa varieties out there, and 15,000 accessions in genebanks.

It’s better than nothing, you’ll say. And you’d be right. But still. It does make you grateful for the International Treaty on PGRFA. Quinoa is not on Annex 1 of the Treaty, so not covered by the “facilitated access” that would presumably have made the assembling of an international collection of asparagus, say, a bit easier. And it also make you grateful for global collections, such as those managed by the CGIAR centres under Article 15 of the Treaty. All the transaction costs implied by that paragraph above — not to mention the heartache — magically disappear. Well, most of them anyway.

Explore where our food comes from by clicking on the image.

Explore where our food comes from by clicking on the image.

Of course, Annex 1 is being looked at again now. New estimates of countries’ interdependence, which formed a part of the background documentation for the Treaty’s deliberations on this issue, and have now just been formally published, do suggest that everybody’s interests would be served by an expansion of the Multilateral System to include crops such as quinoa. And lots of others too.

LATER: I guess a lot of this could be discussed later this year in Dubai… I wonder if there will be a call for inclusion of quinoa in Annex 1?

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As predicted a few days ago, here’s Dr Mike Jackson’s report on that 2 June meeting on plant genetic resources organized by doctoral students at the School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham.

When I was asked to contribute a paper I had to think hard and long about a suitable topic. I’ve always been passionate about the use of plant genetic diversity to increase food security. I decided therefore to talk about the value of genebank collections, how that value might be measured, and I provided examples of how germplasm had been used to increase the productivity of both potatoes and rice.

If you have your own examples, leave a comment on Mike’s blog.

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Pomegranate symbolism through the ages

11 June 2016

Those of you that remember us agonizing about the minutae of agrobiodiversity iconography, to the extent of wondering if this was indeed what it seemed to be, will rejoice with us that, with regards to pomegranates at least, we seem to have found the motherlode.

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Mythbusters edition

7 June 2016

No, mobile phones did not improve the economic welfare of fishermen in Kerala by allowing them to track market prices in different ports. And no, it has not been the antics of environmental activists to stall the adoption of Golden Rice by the world’s poor. Whatever next? The figure for worldwide crop genetic erosion is […]

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Talking PGR at Brum

7 June 2016

The plant genetic resources conference at the University of Birmingham is now over, and the presentations are online, including from Mike Jackson, who I feel sure will say something about it all on his blog soon. And it looks like Svalbard may be in for some British deposits… Thanks to all speakers and participants at […]

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Hawaiian crop diversity festival

7 June 2016

The Indigenous Crop Biodiversity Festival, in Maui, Hawaii, August 24-30, 2016 is a recognized parallel event to the IUCN World Conservation Congress. It offers an opportunity to explore the role of indigenous crop biodiversity conservation in food security and in reducing agricultural impacts to natural ecosystems from practitioners perspectives, as well as a look into […]

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The road to agroecology

6 June 2016

The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), led by Olivier De Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, released its findings today in a report entitled ‘From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems.’ The report was launched at the Trondheim Biodiversity Conference […]

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Brainfood: Yam protection, Gleditsia distribution, Seed systems, Conservation narratives, Roselle diversity, Hassawi extinction, Apple GWAS, Dog domestication

6 June 2016

Disease risk perception and diversity of management strategies by farmers: The case of anthracnose caused by Colletotrichum gloeosporioides on water yams (Dioscorea alata) in Guadeloupe. Farmers gauge the disease pretty much the way scientists do, and use a diversity of mitigation measures, including diversity. Ghosts of Cultivation Past – Native American Dispersal Legacy Persists in […]

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