When I posted the Guardian article about how the growing quinoa market in the West is adding to the suffering of poor Peruvians and Bolivians, there were three responses by those who rejected it: One, the story is old; two, total denial (the story has been debunked!); and three, the farmers are doing just great—they are selling their crops on the world market, they're consuming the extra quinoa, they can afford to buy other foods and enjoy more options, just like us Westerners.
So now I'm supposed to believe that capitalism is actually improving the lives of third world farmers? I'm now supposed to reject 30 years of hard neoliberal history and believe this to be true:
The people of the Altiplano are indeed among the poorest in the Americas. But their economy is almost entirely agrarian. They are sellers – farmers or farm workers seeking the highest price and wage. The quinoa price rise is the greatest thing that has happened to them.
So you are telling me what's happening to quinoa is the best thing to ever happen to the incredibly poor people of Peru?
Daysi Munoz, who runs a La Paz-based quinoa farming collective, agrees. "As the price has risen, quinoa is consumed less and less in Bolivia. It's worth more to them [the producers] to sell it or trade it for pasta and rice. As a result, they're not eating it anymore."
Bitter battles are being fought over prime quinoa-growing land. Last February, dozens of people were hurt when farmers fought with slings and sticks of dynamite over what was once abandoned land.
Many people who migrated to cities in search of a better life are now returning to their arid homeland to grow royal quinoa, says Mejia. Most land is communally owned, she adds, so "the government needs to set out the boundaries or there will be more conflicts".
Asparagus grown in Peru and sold in the UK is commonly held up as a symbol of unacceptable food miles, but a report has raised an even more urgent problem: its water footprint.
The study, by the development charity Progressio, has found that industrial production of asparagus in Peru's Ica valley is depleting the area's water resources so fast that smaller farmers and local families are finding wells running dry. Water to the main city in the valley is also under threat, it says. It warns that the export of the luxury vegetable, much of it to British supermarkets, is unsustainable in its current form.
Next thing you are going to tell me is that microfinancing pulled billions of people out of extreme poverty.