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How Quinoa Works

Challenges of Stocking and Producing Quinoa
A woman harvests quinoa plants on a field in Bolivia.
A woman harvests quinoa plants on a field in Bolivia.
© DAVID MERCADO/Reuters/Corbis

Growing, harvesting and selling quinoa seems like a no-brainer, right? After all, the crop has enjoyed major success over the years, notably beginning in 2007 when the United States imported 7.3 million pounds (3 million kilograms) of the good stuff. Fast-forward to 2012, when the U.S. placed 57.6 million pounds' (25 million kilograms') worth of orders, and it's certainly obvious that demand increased exponentially [source: DePillis]. There's a flip side to every coin, though and quinoa, despite its delicious nutritional goodness, is no exception.

Although the nutritional boons of quinoa are pretty much impossible to discredit, the growing and manufacturing process has been criticized. First, there wasn't enough quinoa available to meet demand. Even after planting and growing ramped up, prices continued to rise, forcing some businesses to stop ordering quinoa, lest it negatively impact their bottom lines [source: DePillis]. The jump in cost wasn't a tiny one, either. For many years 1 metric ton (1.1 tons) of quinoa ran a buyer about $500, but by 2010 that figure increased to a whopping $1,300 per metric ton [source: Richardson].

Although greater demand for the product has helped South American farmers enjoy a serious uptick in pay, the threat also looms that other producers around the world will wind up taking away customers, leaving those who've been making it for millennia in quite a lurch [source: DePillis]. Although quinoa-producing areas are making more money than before, residents of some of these areas are still considered to be extremely malnourished. How could this possibly be the case? After all, they produce a nutritional superstar, quite literally in their own backyards. The simple answer is that quinoa is a pricey product, so they can't afford to eat it. Some choose instead to sell their own supplies at at a profit and then purchase cheaper alternatives [source: Richardson].

As with any manufacturing, business or related industry, questions surrounding quinoa's growth and production is complex. For every critic, there's probably at least one person singing exactly the opposite tune. But none of that takes away from the fact that quinoa is versatile and great for you.