Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is considered a "pseudo-cereal". Although its grain looks like other cereals, it actually belongs to the Chenopodiaceae family, along with chard, beetroot and spinach. It has more than three thousand varieties and grows mainly in the Andean highlands. Its main producer is Bolivia, followed by Peru and the United States.
Ancient cultures offered quinoa plantations to their gods. The Spanish colonisers discarded its consumption for religious reasons or for reasons of convenience (a less well-fed people were easier to defeat) and replaced it with wheat and barley. In short: colonisation set aside its immense nutritional support.
From the point of view of human consumption, it is a crop rich in proteins, fibre, minerals and amino acids, does not contain cholesterol and is easy to digest. Another of its magnificent properties is that, as it does not contain gluten, its intake is highly recommended for coeliac patients and, of course, for those who follow a vegetarian diet due to its high protein content. However, its qualities do not end there, because it is a plant from which everything is used: the stems, the grain and the leaves, and to which healing, analgesic and disinfectant properties are attributed. It is grown entirely organically and therefore does not require pesticides or chemical fertilisers. Quinoa also contributes to food security.
So many qualities could not go unnoticed today. Science has "discovered" its nutritional, curative, therapeutic and cosmetic power. In fact, a French laboratory has begun the process of patenting the cosmetic use of quinoa at the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO). This was denounced by Angel Mujica, a Peruvian researcher at the National University of the Altiplano. Mujica, considered one of the world's leading scientists on Andean crops, has been studying the benefits of quinoa for more than three decades, and describes its properties as follows: "Quinoa is one of the golden grains, because it is the staple food of the population, and this is because this Andean grain is one of the most complete foods in the plant kingdom".
Mujica warns that the ancestral knowledge of the use of this crop and its variants is at great risk. Mujica explains: "The native cultures of the Andes have always used it as a cosmetic. And not only to remove blemishes from the face but also to avoid problems of sunstroke and the effects of ultraviolet rays, which are very intense in the Peruvian-Bolivian highlands".
The Peruvian researcher warns that if the company finally patents the cosmetic use of the plant, the big losers will be the quinoa growers because they will have to pay royalties to the French laboratory. Mujica points out: "All of us Andeans are concerned about the people's food supply. There is malnutrition here, in fact, there is a serious problem of chronic malnutrition, with very severe indices. Quinoa is the basic food of the population. If this French company patents quinoa, the farmers who produce this variety will have to pay the owners of the patent. This is of great concern. These companies are only interested in accumulating money, they are not looking at the welfare of humanity and, above all, of the poorest people. For this reason, we do not consider this type of patent to be appropriate".
Victim of biopiracy
However, this is not the first time that quinoa has been patented. Two US agronomists at Colorado State University received a patent that gave them exclusive rights to the male sterile plants of a common quinoa variety, Bolivia's "Apelawa", and to use them to create other varieties of quinoa. However, protests from Bolivian growers led the two scientists to relinquish the patent four years later.
Since ancient times, the cosmetic properties of this treasure of nature have been passed down through oral tradition, from generation to generation, by the Quechua and Aymara people. Consequently, there can be no question of a "discovery" and the alarm must be sounded, otherwise the "grain of the Andes" could become the victim of a new case of biopiracy.