Santa Cruz, Bolivia — Research that began 11 years ago, initially financed privately but since 2018 with funds from Bolivia’s Gabriel René Moreno University (UAGRM), has achieved a milestone in the production of a new variety of quinoa.
The new variety, dubbed ‘tropical’ quinoa, could be the salvation of farmers in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz department during the winter harvest, when drought and frosts cause crop losses.
And it could also meet rising demand amid the grain shortages, such as the current one caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The team of researchers, led by engineer Marín Condori, and comprising Juan José Lagraba, Hernán Justiniano, Erick Flores and Jorge Barba, presented the new variety of quinoa earlier this month, and which is a new variety of the grain grown in South America since pre-Hispanic times.
The word ‘quinoa’ derives from the Quechua word ‘kinwa’.
The team of researchers were able to grow the new variety of quinoa in the lowlands of Santa Cruz, a department that contributes 30% to the country’s GDP and produces 70% of the food consumed in the country.
Marín Condori said that tropical quinoa could be the food that ensures income in the next winter harvest in 2023 in Santa Cruz because it is tolerant to drought and resistant to frosts that worsen every year. Quinoa is seen as an alternative winter rotation crop and its 56% profitability makes it attractive to farmers.
The research was presented at the university earlier this month, during which the research team expounded the benefits of the new variety to local producers, and which was very well received.
“With the global food shortage, we know that 2023 does not come with guaranteed food security, and we have faith that this new crop could be the alternative we needed in agriculture,” Pedro Manuel Oliva, a farmer from the Santa Cruz valley who intends to test this new variety on his land, said.
Bolivia is the second largest quinoa exporter in the world after Peru, accounting for 30% of the total compared to Peru’s 40%, and which are followed by the Netherlands, Spain, the United States, Germany, France, Ecuador and Belgium.
However, Bolivia’s production had dropped significantly due to the drought that last year also affected crops in the Andean highlands, where quinoa originates.
Among the countries that consume the most quinoa and are potential customers of this new variety are the US, Canada, Germany, Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, Australia and Italy.
The most outstanding characteristics of ‘tropical’ quinoa are its wide genetic variability and an extraordinary gene pool to develop superior varieties, and which also has remarkable adaptability, with the quinoa able to grow in adverse conditions of climate and soil, from sea level to 4,000 meters above sea level.
Tropical quinoa also has high nutritional value and farmers will see low production costs, with an undemanding harvest in terms of input and labor.
In an exclusive interview with Bloomberg Línea, Marín Condori, director of the research team, talked about the new variety.
Bloomberg Línea: What are the characteristics that differentiate this new type of quinoa from Andean quinoa?
Marín Condori: There are four genetic advantages. The first is the 120-day crop cycle, which is much better than the 150, 180 and even 210-day cycle in the highlands. The second advantage is that the average yield of this material is 1.5 tons per hectare, while on the high-altitude plains it averages 500 or 600 kilos per hectare. We are talking about almost triple the profit.
In some areas we get up to four tons per hectare. And the third advantage is the moderate resistance to diseases, and the fourth is the reduction of the plant’s size. We are growing plants as tall as soybean, that is, 80cm, one meter, because the crop has to enter a mechanized harvester. However, quinoa from the high plains reaches a meter and a half or two meters in height.
What markets do you foresee serving, and what comes next after having presented the research?
There are two stages. The first was plant improvement and genetics. And today we are in the midst of global opportunities, there is an emerging demand worldwide for this crop, so exporting considerable volumes will always be effective because there is a large market. By 2030 our projection is to reach close to 10,000 hectares cultivated in Santa Cruz. There are market niches for flour and other derivatives. Because in addition to exporting the crop itself, the idea is to look for derivatives and continue innovating.
What are the characteristics of the plant that allow it to be planted in any climate or altitude?
Quinoa has that flexibility, I call it genetic elasticity, it can be planted from sea level up to 4,000 or 4,500 meters above sea level.
Do you foresee that the production of quinoa in Santa Cruz could spread?
As a result of the war between Russia and Ukraine, the shortage of many foods will surely worsen, and this will be an alternative crop that will help the food system globally. It is high in protein, and it has many essential amino acids that other crops do not have, hence its demand.
Do you think that this type of quinoa will be well received by Andean producers?
No, that will be a problem for sure. It will be a social and regional problem because there is a lot of talk about the importance of the denomination of origin of organic quinoa produced in the inter-salt zone. But we must understand that this is only a niche. And if they market and export with denomination of origin to X market, the rest of the world also has other more basic needs, such as the demand for flour, and to make flour, the large grains of organic quinoa are not needed. So the derivatives and industrial innovation will be the basis for differentiation.
Translated from the Spanish by Adam Critchley