This is the story of a surprising plant and its journey from the mountains of South America to the steppes of Central Asia. It is a journey driven by a mission: to provide healthy food for dry and saline areas. It is the journey of the Quinoa from the Goosefeet (Chenopodiaceae) Plant Family.
It is in South America where we encounter the protagonist of this story for the first time: Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.), a plant native to the Andean Mountains.
Quinoa is what scientists call “a halophyte”. This means, it is able to cope with high salinity levels in the soil – as high as seawater salinity! Moreover, Quinoa is able to adapt well to weather variations. It uses water so efficiently that it can be grown on pure sand and at the same time, withstands the freezing temperatures of the Andeans.
More recently though, Quinoa could also be found in Central Asia. When you picture the Andean landscape of South America and the steppes of Central Asia, they do not have a lot in common at the first glance. Nevertheless there definitely is common ground – a salty and dry ground and this is the crucial part of this story.
To understand the journey of the Quinoa better, we let Kristina Toderich from the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) tell the story of this amazing plant. Speaking at the #GCARD3 Regional Consultation for Central Asia and the Caucasus, Ms. Toderich emphasizes the importance of Quinoa for food security in the context of climate change: ”Dry land areas in Central Asia are considered to be particularly vulnerable to climate change when it comes to food security. Central Asia faces land degradation on many levels: desertification, increasing scarcity of water and salinization are only some of the more important ones.”
A decrease in agricultural production and pasture threatens human food supply directly and indirectly – that is when it comes to fodder scarcity for livestock. “…and this is where Quinoa comes in”, Ms. Toderich explains.
“The drought- and salt-tolerance of the plant offers a chance for food and also fodder production on marginal land in Central Asia. We can even grow it in the field margins of other crops with the leftover of their irrigation water. It provides grains for human consumption but we can also use fodder and stems for feed.”
Proudly she adds:” The good thing is that Quinoa does not accumulate the salt but secretes it through glands on the leaves. So you can easily feed it. The grains again are full of proteins and vitamins – more nutritious than wheat.”
Due to these many advantages the ICBA launched a project called ‘Cross-Regional Partnerships For Improving Food And Nutritional Security In Marginal Environments Of Central Asia’ in 2015. The objective of the project is for farmers in marginal areas to contribute to food and nutrition security by planting Quinoa as well as to generate additional income for themselves.
According to Ms. Toderich, “It is time to focus more on alternative agriculture. Our research on the cultivation of Quinoa can contribute tremendously to food security in Central Asia and other arid regions. But more awareness for crops with high adaptation potential like Quinoa, Sorghum and Amaranth is needed to meet the multiple threats we are facing.”
Listening to these promising perspectives, we hope that the journey of Quinoa will continue to thrive–and stay exciting. The only issue is that in looking back to South America, the rural populations are often no longer able to afford the nutritious crop. This is due to the rising Quinoa prices on the world market caused by an increased demand from Europe.
“Living in a globalized world we can no longer only look on our own countries but must be aware that our actions are connected throughout the whole world”, Kristina Toderich sums up. “We have to research, plan and work jointly for the common goal of food security in a health environment.”
Blogpost by Stefanie Ettling, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – stefanie.ettling(at)giz.de
Picture courtesy of Kristina Toderich (International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, ICBA)
This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Regional Consultation for Central Asia and the Caucasus. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.