© T. Winkel/IRD
Growing quinoa has helped many Bolivian families avoid moving to cities for work.
The view is breathtaking. On this crisp May morning, the scientists have reached an altitude of 3800 meters in the Bolivian section of the
Among them, Richard Joffre, senior researcher at the Functional and Evolutive Ecological Center (CEFE),2 is there to present the first findings of a project carried out jointly by the Dream3 team from CEFE in
To analyze the crops, scientists are using near-infrared spectrometry. “It sends back a single signal for each sample, its biochemical identity card, protein content, and other organic components,” explains Joffre. In their “sieves,” the researchers track the variability of the nutritional (amino acids, fatty acids, etc.) and toxic (saponins) elements. When completed, the database will help farmers make the best selection from all the varieties available. That choice will necessarily be a compromise: “A variety can have excellent nutritional qualities but be fragile in terms of its resistance to the climate, which is pretty harsh in this region,” says Joffre. “The area has roughly 250 days of frost that are completely unpredictable.” Add the impact of climate change, particularly visible in the
There are also economic and social stakes involved in quinoa research, and the team would like to extend their work to include all these aspects. Their long-term goal is “to enable farmers and local decision-makers to achieve sustainability in the cultivation of quinoa, as it has moved in a very short period of time from a subsistence crop to a successful export crop,” says Thierry Winkel, a researcher with the Clifa team who has been stationed in La Paz for the past five years.
On the upside, this rapid mutation has generated substantial profits for crop growers and curbed family migration to nearby cities, as they no longer have to look for work. But there is also a downside. This increase in activity is not always well controlled and has already led to permanent soil impoverishment in some plots, mainly through the use of tractors too heavy for the fragile and arid soil. Furthermore, “the success of the crop in
1. Quinoa is from the Chenopodium family that became native to the Andes approximately 5000 years ago.
2. Centre d'écologie fonctionnelle et évolutive (CNRS / Universités de Montpellier-I, II, III / Ensa Montpellier / Cirad center joint lab).
3. Dynamique réactionnelle des écosystèmes, analyse spatiale et modélisation (Reactional dynamics of ecosystems, spatial analysis and modelization).
4. Climate and functioning of agro-ecosystems, IRD.