Blame It on the Grain

The popularity of quinoa might not be so bad for farmers after all

Attitudes toward quinoa seem to change as quickly as the South American grain hit the U.S. market. At first, it was the perfect solution to those looking for a grain and protein in one, hailed as the latest superfood. And then came the bad news. Prices rose, and pundits started to pen opinion pieces like this one in the Guardian, claiming that the farmers who grow the grain and have eaten it for generations could no longer afford it.

Agricultural economist Marc Bellemare was suspect so he launched a study with Johanna Fajardo-Gonzalez and Seth Gitter looking at how the rising price of quinoa—it nearly tripled between 2006 and 2013—impacted farmers, consumers and others in Peru, one of the main countries producing the food. The results were surprising. Welfare (measured by household expenditures) rose by .7 percent across the board, with the highest increases in welfare seen for producers, followed by consumers and even in households where the grain was not produced or consumed.

Bellemare told Vox:

So, can we all go back to eating quinoa with abandon? A few important questions remain: Now that prices for quinoa are declining, what will be the impact on farmers? What has been the impact in other countries like Bolivia, the other major producer of quinoa? What about crop diversity? In short, we'll have to wait and see.