The Deadly Quinoa Trade

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Ben Cohen
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If you looked at the global economic system, particularly the food trade, as an alien from outer space you'd probably think humans were amongst the craziest species on earth. Under the dictates of a free market system, people around the world can no longer afford the food they actually grow themselves. Take the latest example of quinoa, the highly nutritious staple food for many South Americans. Annoying 'foodies' have in recent times latched onto this protein rich grain, serving it alongside their organic avocado salads and soy burgers while ensuring native Bolivians and Peruvians can't feed their families with it any more. From the Guardian:

There is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.

Of course I'm being a little harsh on the foodies (whose intentions are most likely in the right place). Most people in the West have no real understanding of the food trade and how massively damaging it is - and even if they do, it is extremely difficult to work out how ethical the food they are eating really is. Another example of the madness of a market system is Nile Perch from Tanzania, a fish from Tanzania's Lake Victoria exported to the West in vast quantities that is no longer affordable for locals (a documentary was made about this 'Darwin's Nightmare' back in 2004). The fact that people are literally starving because they are unable to eat the food they grow should cause a major rethink in how we produce and consume food. But of course markets are flawless and create the perfect balance in the long run....