Quinoa Quandary: Can a Natural Brand Quell It?

The New York Times posted a few weeks back an interesting story about quinoa. It turns out the growing popularity of that delicious and nutritious grain (that even my kids love as a pilaf with melted cheese on top) has created a real dilemma in its country of origin, Bolivia.

It seems that its surge in popularity in Western nations has raised farmers’ incomes, but at a big social cost: the locals can no longer afford to buy what was previously their staple food, and are turning to nutritionally-poor processed foods as a replacement.

This quandary is an example of a cycle that we’ve been modeling out with our clients such as Traditional Medicinals and Organic India for a number of years.

For example, let’s look at Organic India, whose Tulsi crop was inspired by their founders’ desire to create change. 15,000 Indian farmers, shamed by their participation in Monsanto’s failed Roundup agricultural model, commit suicide each year by ingesting the very same pesticides that failed them. The Organic India Tulsi Tea model (now the number 6 tea brand in natural) enables a virtuous cycle that expands organic Tulsi farming in its native India, and in turn supports the farm families there not only through better incomes, but also access to schools and healthcare.

We haven’t heard any reports of Tulsi production creating an imbalance in the system, but if it begins to have unintended consequences in the community, Organic India will need to rethink its model and bring the virtuous cycle back into harmony.

The quinoa dilemma has certainly made me question future purchases of quinoa. It seems to me there is an opening for a brand that can prove they can solve this problem, perhaps by following the Organic India model. If anyone’s up for it, I know I’d be the first onboard.