In February of this year, the United National declared 2013 the International Year of the Quinoa. Yet, I’m sure not many people have even heard of quinoa, let alone know about its nutritional qualities.
Originating from Bolivia, Chile and Peru around 5,000 years ago, quinoa is a grain that is growing in popularity across the country. Consumed like rice and used to make flour, soup, cereals or alcohol, quinoa is very nutritious due to its high protein content, making it an important food crop in alleviating hunger and food security in impoverished areas of the world.
Currently, Bolivia and Peru are the leading producers of quinoa, with nearly 80 percent of the world production, while the United States imports 45 percent of the world quinoa production. Since the 1980s, researchers in the United States have been trying to re-establish quinoa production. Although U.S. production has risen since the 1980’s, with Colorado and Nevada being the pioneer states, the production remains insignificant relative to the favorable climatic conditions, technological potential and demand within this country. Research is needed to help support and sustain this rapidly rising industry.
In 2012, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded Washington State University (WSU) a grant through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. The grant will help develop adapted varieties and optimal management practices for quinoa production in diverse environmental conditions. Additionally, this new knowledge will be disseminated to Extension educators who can educate producers.
As a partial result of this funding, WSU sponsored a conference on quinoa research on August 12-14 in Pullman, Washington. The International Quinoa Research Symposium featured presentations from quinoa experts from around the world. The participant list was diverse, with people coming from as far away as Egypt, Tibet and Australia. The conference included hands-on demonstrations at area field trials, along with discussions and presentations of current research.
As the conference coincided with the International Year of the Quinoa, it helped put the spotlight on this important crop that has potential to improve food security and nutrition while ultimately working toward internationally-agreed upon development goals for the extermination of poverty.