|A pot of quinoa and quinoa soup cooking over a fire at the |
top of a mountain overlooking the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
On the 29th of November NPR published an article regarding quinoa that contained what we believed to be many nonfactual and grossly misleading elements. Mike and I have therefore jointly penned an open letter to NPR which takes issue with the some of the points made within the piece. We have emailed the author of the NPR article, Alastair Bland, and published the letter here for everyone to read.
I read your article regarding the quinoa craze and felt I needed to write you a letter.
I am currently down in Bolivia working on a documentary about quinoa production and take issue with a number of points raised in your work.
"And it's not without challenges. In Bolivia, second in production to Peru, great prosperity has come to many farmers. But communities in the Bolivian Andes that formerly lived on quinoa have become unable to afford it and are now relying more on nutritionally inferior processed foods."
Firstly, Bolivia out produces Peru, although historically it was the other way round.
Second, I haven't interviewed a single farmer from the Altiplano region this week, or in my previous time in Bolivia, that has admitted to having given up eating quinoa due to the inability to afford his own grain. This is a myth and a falsehood. Quinoa farmers in Bolivia grow it for commercial gain. They set aside some grain, sometimes of lesser quality, or they sow a separate batch for personal use. I know this because I have spoken directly with many farmers on their land, in their quinoa fields…as recently as two days ago.
As farmers become more well off, their eating habits become diversified as they can afford to eat other foods. They CHOOSE to eat pasta or rice because of its increased availability and, to them, because of its novelty. In Bolivia, the social stigma is that quinoa is still a poor person's food, not a Whole Foods hot commodity. Though, efforts are being made to educate them on quinoa's increasing popularity in the first world…something that they themselves are also figuring out due to the unprecedented deluge of cash flow coming their way. So as they gain more wealth, they look to eat the foods of those who they perceive as having a higher social standing. The situation is far more complex than simply saying “they can't afford to eat their own grain”.
"Bolivian llama herders are also abandoning their flocks, once the region's natural fertilizer source, and, instead, planting quinoa. This seems already to be causing declining soil productivity."
Perhaps there have been instances. I can neither confirm nor deny, but not once has this been brought to my attention as a significant issue while in country. Yet I can safely say, having just driven 10 hours back to La Paz from Uyuni, I saw plenty of llama herders. I can assure you the practice is alive and well and has not been abandoned wholesale. Newer farmers are beginning to understand the importance of buying llama excrement for the enrichment of their soil. Equally, llama herders are also beginning to understand that farmers will buy their animals excrement. Therefore the farmer and the herder understand the need for one and other and the roles each of them have to play as quinoa's popularity continues.
"And property disputes are reportedly on the rise as South American entrepreneurs — often landless arrivals from the cities — compete with one another for growing space in the limited arable land of the Andes as they try to cash in on the quinoa craze."
It is true…there are property disputes. Would you like to know how they are settled? Most of the land in the Altiplano is owned directly by the members of the community. They have leaders called Jilakatas, who are the individuals who have lived and worked the land for the most time. Basically “the elders”. In Bolivia, these Jilakata's and other community members have the legal right to decide who to grant land to. As the quinoa craze increases, many individuals are returning to their communities of origin, after originally abandoning the community during the rough times, in an attempt to claim what they believe to be their land via birthright. Sometimes the leaders allow them a slice of land, sometimes not, but they simply do not roll over and give up when "landless arrivals from the cities" roll into town.
I question your research. Have you been to Bolivia? Have you spoken directly with Bolivian farmers? The sources used in your story only link back to other NPR articles.
My team and I have liaised with the Bolivian mission at the United Nations regarding the International Year of the Quinoa, set for 2013. We have liaised with quinoa farmers, laborers, market sellers and production plants. Who and where are you sourcing your information? We would be happy to share our sources with you. We would be happy to take this conversation off line and discuss in private should you so wish.
The overwhelming evidence suggests that as demand for quinoa increases, Bolivians growing quinoa is providing a viable way of working themselves out of poverty. Perpetuating these myths and half truths only serves to damage a growing economy and undermine hard working farmers' efforts to lift themselves out of poverty in an honest and sincere endeavor.
What are your motives behind this article (and the others you reference)? It appears that you'd rather Americans didn't buy from Bolivians and are making a concerted effort to turn Americans away from eating Bolivian quinoa. Convincing Americans that somehow boycotting Bolivian quinoa and taking away the bulk of international demand will do the farmers more good is unacceptable.
Is the American Dream restricted only for Americans of the United States? Is it that ambition, hard work, enterprise, blood, sweat and toil is only reserved for the people of your choosing? Is it because seeing farmers in the Developing World actually succeeding doesn't fit with your own expectation of misery and starvation? Would you prefer the humble Bolivian quinoa farmer to stay poor and remain in his place?
I charge you that all these things are the rights of all the peoples of the Americas across both continents, North and South...if not the World.
Stefan Jeremiah and Michael Wilcox
|A meal of quinoa and llama meat. The same meal eaten by|
everyone on the day we gave thanks to Pachamama.
We also intend to post some exerts from our up coming documentary, The Mother Grain, of which we are in mid-production, of an interview with a Bolivian quinoa farmer explaining how her children demand to be fed quinoa.
For more comprehensive information about the documentary please visit: The Mother Grain