General Assembly Launches International Year of Quinoa, with Secretary-General Saying Extraordinary Grain Could Have Significant Impact on Anti-hunger Fight

20 February 2013
General AssemblyGA/11341
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly


64th Meeting (AM)

General Assembly Launches International Year of Quinoa, with Secretary-General

Saying Extraordinary Grain Could Have Significant Impact on Anti-hunger Fight

President of Bolivia Tells Assembly Quinoa a ‘Gift from the Andes to the World’;

Also Hears Ministers from Peru, Ecuador, Head of Food and Agriculture Organization

Launching today the 2013 International Year of Quinoa, senior United Nations officials joined South American leaders to praise the nutritional value of the ancient “superfood”, which Bolivian President Evo Morales hailed as an “ancestral gift from the Andes to the world” — a low-cost response to global hunger and the starting point for a more equitable international economic system, especially the food trade.

“Let us work together to make sure the benefits of this extraordinary grain can be felt by those who need it most,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the opening of a special meeting of the General Assembly that featured addresses from President Morales, whose country, the world’s largest quinoa producer, had spearheaded the campaign to designate the International Year, as well as Rafael Roncagliolo Orbegoso, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Peru, and Silvana Vallejo, Vice-Minister of Rural Development of Ecuador.  Jose Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), also delivered a statement.

Secretary-General Ban emphasized that quinoa, a protein rich cultural anchor and staple of the diet of millions of people throughout the Andes for thousands of years, could contribute significantly to the “Zero Hunger Challenge” he had launched in June 2012.  Indeed, the grain had two great advantages — it was extremely nutritious and highly adaptable — and that made it essential to meeting global nutrition goals and countering the effects of a warming planet, where desertification and land degradation were becoming ever more pressing issues.

Quinoa’s tolerance to arid conditions made it an attractive crop for farmers in all regions, he said, and as a result, its cultivation was expanding from the Andean region to include Kenya, India, North America and Europe.  Most quinoa growers were small farmers and the crop held the promise of improved income, one of the key planks of the Zero Hunger Challenge.  Some of the poorest Andean indigenous farming communities had already benefited greatly from rising prices sparked by quinoa’s rising popularity in export markets.

“But let us also beware of potential pitfalls,” he warned, explaining that as prices for quinoa rose in line with demand, there was a risk that the poor could be excluded from their staple grain in local markets in favour of cheaper, less nutritious food.  “Even growers can be tempted to sell all their crop and eat less healthily.”  He went on to stress that, while many South American nations were making strong progress towards attaining the Millennium Development Goal of reducing hunger by half — progress that could be accelerated by quinoa’s increasing popularity outside the region — much remained to be done.

“We must especially work to close the gaps among and within countries,” the Secretary-General said, noting that too many inequalities remained, particularly among remote and indigenous communities, where child malnutrition and stunting were still prevalent.  Here, he hailed the efforts of Nadine Heredia Humala, First Lady of Peru, as well as President Morales’ Government, to boost nutrition in their countries, particularly for mothers and children.  “I believe quinoa is truly a food for the [Millennium Development Goals] and can make an important contribution to the post-2015 development agenda,” he said.

President Morales, addressing the Assembly on behalf of the social movements and rural farming communities responsible for fostering and producing quinoa for some 7,000 years, declared that while the launch of the International Year was a major recognition of such Andean food producers and the sustainable agricultural practices they employed, it was also a major rejection of capitalist systems and large corporations that sought to take control of food and food products for profit and standardization.

“They are not interested in the health of people; just their profits,” he said, noting that against such a backdrop, the Andean people had grown and harvested quinoa, “from Mother Earth”, without using environmentally detrimental practices or infusing the grain with cancer causing chemicals.  It was a major source of both food security and food sovereignty for the Andean peoples.  Yet, he recalled that as a child, the grain was undervalued.  Indeed, in the aftermath of the conquest of many South American lands and the ensuing colonial domination, quinoa harvesting had been severely suppressed.  For centuries, it had been dismissed as “the food of the Indians”.

Yet quinoa was more highly regarded today, especially that which grew in the Bolivian highlands.  Big corporations were feeling the pressure of quinoa’s growing popularity and many were attempting to gain control of some crops and some had even tried to stymie the launch of the year.  But, thanks to the solidarity of Andean countries and the assistance of FAO, “this day has come”.  This was the day the world would begin to challenge capitalist production models to ensure that healthy foods were put to the benefit of humankind, not corporations.

Pushing back against global multinational corporations, Bolivia had, and would continue to, increased its production of quinoa, which it saw as essential to countering the impact of the ongoing global food crisis.  President Morales called for scaling up food sources that benefited the world as a whole.  For example, quinoa had the 10 most essential amino acids for human growth.  It was also high in vitamins A, C, B1 and B12, as well as folic acid.  It was also highly adaptable, making it an essential tool to counter the effects of climate change, which was being driven by the harmful production practices of the developed world.

Climate change threatened to exacerbate water shortages.  The proportion of people living in countries that would face chronic water shortages was set to skyrocket between now and 2050.  That phenomenon would send millions more people to bed hungry each night because their countries would not have enough water to sustain adequate agricultural growth.  Quinoa could address some of those serious challenges, chiefly because it did not require much water.  It was also highly resilient to drought, frost and pests.

“Are we going to use organic food from the Andes or fast food from the West?” he asked, stressing that ancient knowledge of indigenous people could help sustain the entire world.  “We must not make [quinoa] a question of trade and profit, [its production] must be implemented with polices that benefit the people,” he said, stressing that the current food policies of the capitalist system could not, and did not, promote health, sustain people, or benefit development.

Assembly Vice President Enrique Román-Morey (Peru), delivering a statement on behalf of Assembly President Vuk Jeremić, said that while past claims about the benefits of some foods had proven too extravagant, claims made about quinoa were correct and he was certain it deserved its “superfood” label.  It could make a huge nutritional, economic and poverty reducing contribution, he said, with the potential to boost food security globally. 

Paying tribute to the Andean peoples’ cultivation of the crop, he noted the importance of indigenous knowledge to helping the world to tackle challenges.  He described the grain’s nutritional content, pointing out that schools in Ecuador and Peru were including quinoa in children’s breakfast rations and outlining its use in medicines to treat abscesses, bleeding, stomach problems and sore throats, among other ailments. 

Empowering indigenous people, especially women and small and medium sized farmers, was essential, he said, adding that the rest of the world could learn from their knowledge.  The developed world, therefore, needed to provide technical and financial assistance to build capacity and transfer good practices.  As well as boosting economies worldwide, further global cultivation of quinoa could contribute to meeting the goals of the Secretary-General’s Zero Hunger Challenge.

Mr. Graziano da Silva picked up that thread, noting that while the right to nutrition had been recognized by the international community, hunger nonetheless continued to cause premature deaths worldwide and was both a cause and consequence of extreme poverty.  It was impossible not to respond when one out of every eight people worldwide lived in hunger.  Recognizing that reality, he said, required “fighting with passion”.  That was particularly important given that methods to deal with hunger existed.  It was a task for the international society as a whole, with leadership and commitment from Governments worldwide required, as well as support from civil society and private initiatives.

The most recent FAO figures showed that 50 countries had achieved the Millennium Goal of reducing food poverty by half.  To ensure that all nations achieved that, an additional impulse was needed, he said, to move forward from reducing hunger to the even more ambitious goal of eliminating it altogether.  “Quinoa is a new ally in the fight against hunger,” he said, noting its unique qualities, especially its extraordinary capacity to adapt to different conditions.  In Kenya and Mali it had demonstrated great productivity and it could be planted in the Himalayas, as well as the Sahel, Yemen and other arid regions. 

The International Year was a chance to stimulate the development of quinoa crops at a global level, he said, urging stakeholders to redress contemporary challenges by using the wisdom of ancient peoples and small family farmers.  Through coordinated efforts, Governments could enable society to move towards meeting the common challenge of creating a hunger free world.

Speaking next, Mr. Roncagliolo Orbegoso said that quinoa, together with the potato, had been the foundation of the nutritional regimen for Aztecs, Incas and other Andean peoples for thousands of years.  Indeed, those people had long been aware of the medicinal, nutritional and cosmetic values of those foods.  Quinoa had specifically been helpful in fortifying Andean communities against the Conquistadors.  The International Year was recognition of the appeal of “this golden grain”, of the Andean cultural traditions, and of the efforts of Andean women who continued to cultivate the grain for centuries, even in the face of persecution over “fears of the unknown”.

Just as small seeds were germinating in the Andes and opening up unimaginable opportunities for the rest of the world to tackle hunger and poverty, the countries and Governments of the South American region were blossoming into ever more important players on the international scene.  He said that with the growing demand for quinoa, his country had last year exported over $30 million worth of the grain to 37 markets abroad, including the United States, Canada, Israel, Australia, and Germany. 

He said that, at the national level, Peru had established working groups to guarantee the right to food and proper nutrition for all, especially the most vulnerable individuals and communities.  Ecuador was committing to the promotion of a national diet that was based on traditional crops.  It was also launching eco-tourism initiatives that would not only help raise awareness about quinoa, but would also shine a spotlight on the country’s sustainable agricultural practices.  “We are proud of our heritage,” he said, adding that nearly 200,000 small farmers in the region would benefit from increased awareness about quinoa and millions of people worldwide would benefit form its nutritious value.  “This golden grain,” once feared and even banned, was now poised to play an essential role in eradicating hunger around the world, he declared.

Outlining Ecuador’s contribution and experiences, Ms. Vallejo said her country was working to compile knowledge to boost the sustainable quinoa production based on its “cultural and gastronomical wealth”.  Quinoa, she said, would ensure food sovereignty and contribute to improving global nutrition.  Though cultivation of the grain had been forced into secrecy for many years due to Spain’s policies in the region, Ecuador had managed to protect about 235 genotypes, which had been collected and studied. 

Research allowed better knowledge about the systems and rotations used by the ancestral culture to grow quinoa while respecting the earth, she said, and now, those family farms were considered the “guardians” of agro-biodiversity and were responsible for production of 60 per cent of the country’s power.  To fight poverty and malnutrition, a strengthening of public policies aimed at boosting rural household income was needed, she continued, as were technologies that could minimise the environmental and social impact of the production of high value-added products in rural enterprises. 

She also called for strengthening of farmers’ organisations and the promotion of science and knowledge to enable development of innovative technologies and practices that recognized ancestral knowledge, strengthened food sovereignty and boosted the consumption of healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food.  She added that Ecuador would be the headquarters of the Fourth World Congress of Quinoa and Andean Grains First Symposium and that Imbabura Province had been chosen for one of the country’s biggest investments in science and technology, the “Yachay City of Knowledge.”

When Member States took floor, they all welcomed the launch of the International Year as a key element of the Organization’s development agenda, with the representative of the Philippines stressing that it integrated the three pillars of sustainable development:  improving the livelihoods of farmers advanced the economic pillar; honouring indigenous trades, knowledge and practices promoted the social pillar; and ensuring sustainable agricultural practices bolstered the environmental pillar.

Also addressing the special meeting were the representatives of Peru, Fiji (on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China), Cuba (also on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Brazil, Argentina, India, Australia, Chile, Italy, New Zealand, Nicaragua, South Africa and Venezuela.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.