The boom for quinoa continues. Beyond the natural health food stores, the rich golden grain is also finding a prominent presence at conventional supermarkets and trendy restaurants around the globe. Originally a South American staple grown in peasant farmer fields in the Andean highlands, today quinoa is cultivated in other Latin American countries and even in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia.

Bolivia is known as the source of the Royal Quinoa, a much larger seed, the result of direct sunlight and rich nutrients from the soils of the Uyuni salt flats. Amid increasing demand for Royal Quinoa, Bolivia faces production challenges, particularly in the Southern Highlands of Oruro, where quinoa and the breeding of camelides have been the two major sources of income.“Exports of quinoa at higher prices motivated expansion of the traditional cultivation area,” said Rafael Revilla of Fundacion Autapo, a local NGO that supports regional projects. “The flat areas previously covered with natural vegetation to feed the llamas have been exposed to intensive quinoa cultivation, affecting the soil and productivity.”Prior to the boom, the grain was planted in small fields, the soil fertilized with manure from the camelides, with more rotation.

The solution is to pay more attention to the soil, respect natural green barriers, add farming of other Andean grains and foods for local consumption and crop rotation, increase raising of camelides as a complementary source of income and source of natural fertilizer, implementation of efficient water management systems and natural pest control practices to ensure better yields in smaller cultivation areas. ”The idea is to combine ancestral and local knowledge complemented with current technical methods developed by the sector,” said Mr. Revilla.

To generate a decent income, families in the Bolivian Southern Highlands must produce between 70 and 100 “quintales” (3,220 and 4,600 kilos) of quinoa per year. “We aim to reach this production volume in just 2-3 hectares, as opposed to 7 - 10 hectares required to achieve this volume with the extensive agriculture systems followed in the past decade.” On the other hand, there is need to increase awareness of the value of quinoa from the Andean highlands. Many are pleased with the recent proposal to declare 2013 the International Year of Quinoa."A strong campaign supported by the UN and other organizations to promote quinoa's benefits will shed light on how this gift from the Andes to the world can contribute to fight hunger and malnutrition,” said Sergio Nunez of Andean Naturals, a leading U.S.-based quinoa importer and distributor. The popularity of quinoa in the North is having a positive impact in its countries of origin: farmers' incomes have almost tripled and most of the quinoa exported is organically grown. “We hope that through UN campaigns and local government efforts, quinoa can also gain popularity in its countries of origin, particularly in Bolivia.” The challenge is to keep a healthy quinoa production in balance with nature and without a focus just on land expansion”, says Mr. Revilla.