Having grown up in the US with Peruvian roots inspired me to spend the last 4 years working with micro-entrepreneurs in the Andes to build their capacity as businesses and connect them with markets for their products. The mountain landscape here, which spans from deserts to jungles and reaches over 4 miles above sea level, can teach anyone an awareness of humanity’s complex and beautiful relationship with the environment. It’s no coincidence that quinoa, one of the most adaptable and nutritionally valuable plants in the world, originated here and that farmers developed thousands of local varieties to thrive in the diverse micro-climates of the intense mountain landscape. Quinoa’s immense genetic resources in Southern Peru can create endless opportunities for present and future generations to live healthier lives and adapt to the challenges of climate change. Unfortunately, a global food system that demands uniformity is causing local quinoa varieties to go extinct because they have no market value.
I’m launching Pachakuti Foods to protect quinoa diversity and support the farmers who cultivate it. My startup social enterprise is working to produce the first biodiversity-friendly quinoa milk made with multiple local quinoa varieties that have been carefully selected for their delicious milky flavor. By making value-added products using native quinoa, our goal is to create a new model of quinoa globalization that values diversity instead of destroying it. Smallholder farmers in southern Peru have protected quinoa diversity for thousands of years and produce some of the best quality organic quinoa using ancient knowledge. However, most of them are at the mercy of large wholesalers, who in 2015 pushed quinoa prices to critically low levels as the quinoa supply increased. We will support these farmers by sourcing quinoa directly from them and providing a fair price. By working with organized farmer groups that continue the ancient traditions of communal land management, our quinoa milk will be healthier for both people and planet.
Agrobiodiversity isn’t just important for promoting global food security, it also creates a profusion of rich flavors and the potential for innovative new products using the unique qualities of rare local crops. Our quinoa milk will stand out for its excellent quality while also telling the story of the beautiful communities where this quinoa comes from. Pachakuti Foods hopes to create other products that tap into the incredible value of diversity and we hope that other enterprises will adapt this model to protect agrobiodiversity in many parts of the world.