As the World’s Population Grows, So Does the Cost of Quinoa


Samuel Fromartz has an interesting article on The Atlantic today about population growth and the question of how to feed the 9 billion people who are expected to call the planet home by 2050. Commercial biotechnology is commonly touted as the best way to produce food for this burgeoning population, but as Fromartz points out, the majority of the crops that benefit from biotech’s resources — such as soybeans and corn — are used for animal feed, meaning they’re used for meat. And because only a small part of the world’s population can afford meat, genetically modified crops aren’t doing that much for everybody else.

After taking population growth projections into account (there’s a chance that we won’t reach 9 billion by 2050) and referencing possible food lifestyle models (which range from eating only enough to have a reduced lifespan to having gross surpluses of everything, as we do here in the U.S.), Fromartz concludes that the question isn’t how we will feed 9 billion people, but how many people the planet will really have, and what will they be eating? According to a World Bank executive interviewed for the story, “We already have close to one billion people who go hungry today, not because there is not enough food in the world but because they cannot afford to buy it.”

Which brings us to Bolivia, whose people have lived on quinoa for centuries. But as The New York Times reports, exports of the plant have proven to be so popular in the U.S. and Europe that many Bolivians can no longer afford it. No longer confined to the shelves of health-food stores, quinoa — whose seeds are often mislabeled as a grain — is now recognized as a superfood, beloved for both its nutritional profile and nutty flavor.

But while export prices have been good to many Bolivian farmers, they’ve led a sizable chunk of the population to turn instead to cheaper and more heavily processed foods like white bread and Coke. Which both echoes Fromartz’s question — what will the world’s population be eating? — and illustrates the necessity of answering it with practices that won’t starve the world of its traditional foods while fattening the bottom lines of corporations.