Quinoa could become a ‘possible solution’ to ending malnutrition and hunger, according to an agricultural entrepreneur.
Cedric Habiyaremye made the claim in a recent Ted Talk, where he talks about his own experience struggling with food insecurity whilst living in a refugee camp.
He returned to his own country of Rwanda after the 1994 genocide and witnessed how many people didn’t have the privilege of eating three meals a day. There were times where he and his family did not eat for three entire days or resorted to eating grass from the forest just to ‘survive’.
‘Malnutrition remained rampant’
“More than 70 percent of Rwandans work in the agricultural sector, but malnutrition and stunting remained rampant,” Habiyaremye said.
“I came to realize that food insecurity and malnutrition were not happening because people were not farming enough, it was because people were not farming the right crops.
Habiyaremye then moved to the States for graduate school, where he discovered quinoa: a grain indigenous to the Indian regions of South America.
Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids – making it a complete protein – and has been popularised as a ‘superfood’ in Western culture due to its nutrient density.
‘Immediate food source’
“Unfortunately, quinoa is not cultivated as much in different parts of the world,” Habiyaremye added.
“In Rwanda, beans are the only thing that kept so many of us alive during those times of hunger and starvation. Rwanda is the number one bean-consuming country in the world per capita.
“In this part of Africa, beans are one of the only crops that provide an immediate food source, because you can eat beans at every stage of growth.”
However, it is not possible to cultivate beans in the same field season after season – as a regular rotation of other crops is necessary to avoid disease and pests.
Quinoa can also be consumed at every stage of growth and is more versatile than beans. They also have far more micronutrients.
Quinoa Model Farmers Program
So, in 2015, Habiyaremye and his research team introduced quinoa to Rwanda, testing 20 different varieties to see the ‘adaptability’ in three ecological zones of the country.
“The results were astonishing,” Habiyaremye said. “Among the 20 varieties we tested, 15 of them showed the potential to grow well in Rwanda’s climate.
“Later, we started Quinoa Model Farmers Program – we gave those potential varieties to farmers to grow in their farms and community.
The program began with just 12 farms and has now expanded significantly, with around 500 farmers taking part including Habiyaremye’s own Mother.
Because of this, many of them now have access to ‘nutritious food three times a day’ and do not use quinoa to replace other crops, but as a supplement to create ‘overall health and nutrition’.
“We’ve started this model with quinoa in Rwanda but it can be replicated in different countries experiencing malnutrition and hunger,” Habiyaremye concluded.
You can watch the full Ted Talk here