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2013 has been designated the “International Year of Quinoa” by FAO and the UN. PROINPA, an organization that works in agricultural development, has united with us to tell the story of quinoa production in Bolivia to create a new book and series of international exhibitions.
But why quinoa, and why is there a need for such organizations to create a resolution declaring a year long celebration of the food? While we capture content for the celebratory book and events, we take a closer look at the history of quinoa, its rising international popularity and position in the marketplace, and the benefits of a food that is also known as "The Mother Grain."
Completely self financed to this point and with significant assistance from PROINPA, we traveled to Bolivia during harvest season, visiting and photographing many of the famers that work with PROINPA. Currently, quinoa crops are nearly, if not fully, grown and many farmers have begun the harvest of the crop. A second trip, scheduled for late 2012, is being planned and organized to revisit some farmers as they sow the ground in preparation for next years' harvest.
Translated, quinoa means "The Mother Grain." It is a grain with outstanding and intrinsic characteristics. It has an amazing ability to adapt to adverse conditions of climate and soil where other crops cannot grow, especially at high altitudes. Unlike other grains and cereals, quinoa provides a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids, making it an ideal food for all diets. Traditional and nontraditional industrial innovations have improved crop yields over the last five years. The cost of production when compared to traditional crops such as potatoes and maize is significantly lower because the harvesting is less labor intensive.
In 1996, the FAO deemed quinoa as a “promising crop of humanity” due to the aforementioned characteristics and the global need to find and identify alternative food products. This global need emerges as a result of growing population and climate change in many countries, and quinoa is viewed as a potential solution due to its adaptable nature. It fulfills the “four pillars of food,” as identified by the FAO (availability, access, utilization, stability). In recent years, the number of quinoa fields in varying countries has significantly grown, where quinoa has not traditionally been harvested (i.e. England, France, Sweden). Exports has also significantly risen in countries that have traditionally grown quinoa (i.e. Bolivia, Peru, Chile).
The Mother Grain asks why an entire year has been dedicated to celebrating a tiny grain and examines the countless positive benefits of quinoa production as an answer.
The story to be told dates back to the Conquistadors and traces itself through many agrarian reforms in South America to the 1980's, when the first farms in the United States began growing quinoa, to next year, the "International Year of Quinoa." The story goes beyond Bolivia. Now more than ever, there are more people outside of Bolivia beginning to produce and consume quinoa. Not only are there farms in England, France, and Sweden producing quinoa, but in Italy and the United States as well. There are even farms in some African countries, like Kenya, sustaining quinoa. And there are more markets and groceries carrying quinoa as its international consumer base has significantly risen over the past decade.
Part of the narrative includes the comparative benefits of quinoa growth and consumption versus our 'staple' foods such as corn, rice, and soy...and despite the obvious advantages, how the industrialization of food makes it difficult for an emerging food like quinoa to thrive.
Another part weaves in the stories of Steve Gorad, Don McKinley, and Dave Schnorr, whose mutual work in the early 80's initially introduced North Americans to quinoa. They remained some of the only champions of quinoa until its recent burst in popularity. Their work over the years has eventually tuned into what is known today as the Quinoa Corporation.
A final part of this story is examining to Millennial Goals of United Nations, of which one is to cut world poverty and hunger in half by 2015. We examine what steps are being taken to achieve this lofty goal, how dedicating an entire year to quinoa helps, and ask why some countries are not making enough progress to achieve the 2015 goal (countries like Bolivia).
Bear Witness Pictures is comprised of Michael Wilcox and Stefan Jeremiah, both of whom made the original trip to Bolivia this past spring.
We are photojournalists who are interested in exploring, and visually showing, the far reaching and extended affect every story line or issue possesses. We are using quinoa to not only explore larger issues like world poverty and hunger, but to look at the agricultural history of our world as a means of determining how we've arrived to our current situation of food production and distribution.
We are raising funds to support all of the production for "The Mother Grain" outside of Bolivia. Filming has already begun on a farm in Upstate New York, but a production budget is for crew, travel, and filming in other farms on location afar.
We need to complete the story we've set out to tell, we need to travel to and meet with farmers, producers, importers, exporters, buyers, sellers, consumers...anyone in the world who is supporting the growth of quinoa. We have also reached out to and are planning to meet with experts in Incan, Andean, and Bolivian history in order to glean a better understanding of how culture and society in general affect quinoa and food production. All of this in an effort to determine if a tiny grain is worthy of such a lofty title as "The Mother Grain."
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