Thursday, February 21, 2013

Think.Eat - Save?

Funny how things happen by chance - read a notice in our local paper that the UN designated 2013 as the Year of Quinoa and then a Facebook friend sent a notice of a Blog competition on the World Environment Day's theme of reducing your foodprint. Ironically will be doing an exam on Public Health which covers this topic -Environment, Health and Sustainable Development at the same time the host country will be giving out the prizes!
So my first thought when I read about Quinoa being chosen was something I had read about the poor peasant women in the Andes who were showing signs of mal-nourishment as their staple food was being flown to be the new trendy food of Health food enthusiasts of the World and the question of the amount of food miles of flying the super-grain from the Andean region in South America to the tables of the developed world being sanctioned by the UN raised my eyebrows:
Quinoa for those who don't know is a nutty-tasting grain originating from the Andes which has no gluten, a high concentration of amino acids along with trace elements and vitamins. Like our local farine, it fuels the system of the indigeneous Indians to work for long periods. Its journey to our tables is an interesting example of the globalisation of food production.
Apparently the grain is very adaptable to different agro-ecological regions and can be grown from areas with relative humidity of 40 to 88% and from low-lying areas at sea level to 4000m above sea level and in temperatures from 8 to 38 degrees Celsius. So it's only the ecological balance that would need to be taken into consideration and a way of keeping the major Agro-Food-manufacturers from thinking of a way to captialise and monopolise the market. So far, it seems the only other place growing the grain on a commercial scale is Colorado in the United States, which means the Andean farmers have seen a tripling of the price of their crop since 2006 - leading to increases in the export market and driving down consumption in the local market where it was reported to leading to  increasingly substitution of the more unhealthy Western diet of  'junk food'.
This is a good example of risk transition - when an increase in modern risks like obesity due to unhealthy calorie-dense foods increase while the traditional risks partly due to poverty recede with increasing economic development.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation sees this grain as an important contribution towards food security and achieving the first Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. A recent article noted that with increasing population 'All inputs needed to feed each additional person will, on average, come from scarcer, poorer, and more distant sources, disproportionately more energy will be used, and disproportionately more greenhouse gases will be generated.'
While the production of a vegetarian protein-rich food is more sustainable in the long run compared to meat production, it was reported in the second article above that other traditional sustainable forms of agriculture are being sacrificed by the mass production demands for quinoa, already upsetting the ecological balance involving soil fertility and llamas. It remains to be seen what effects introducing a new plant to a different ecosystem in order to cut down the carbon footstep,will produce.

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