The trouble with quinoa

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?

3 Replies to “The trouble with quinoa”

  1. Luigi: “interdependence”: but we knew all this ages ago – as far back as Purseglove, Jennings and Cock, and Kloppenburg and Kleinman, 1980s and earlier (none of these pioneers are credited with anything in the latest from CIAT). The Treaty negotiations refused to take crop introduction as the main reason for a treaty, instead playing around with patents and taxes (and failing). I was banging my head against a wall for a decade trying to make people see reason on crop introduction (and also failing). As I see it, `wild relatives’ and `nutrition’ are just muddying the water: lots of countries are making lots of money exporting previously introduced crops that do not depend on wild relatives for their success.
    Expanding the multilateral system is a flea-bite – making the existing Annex 1 work is the real challenge (and making all those billions of dollars earned from exporting introduced crops from developed and developing countries actually pay for the continued need for germplasm introduction). All this could have been left to the CBD and the CGIAR (now the only effective part of the `Global System’): fat chance once Rome got involved.

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