There were 1,377 quinoa growers in 2020 which decreased to 331 in 2022

Yangyel Lhaden

Jamyang Choden from Bartsham, Trashigang, started growing quinoa on her approximately 25 decimal land five years ago. Initially satisfied with the harvest and the money she earned, today she is unhappy with the declining price of quinoa.

She initially sold quinoa at a price of Nu 100 per kg and then for Nu 90 per kg, and last year’s price per kg was Nu 69. She sells her produce to Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd.

“I have harvested about 300kg, whereas previously I used to harvest about 500kg. However, I have stopped cultivating more because I am demotivated by the decreasing price every year,” Jamyang Choden said. “Quinoa is not popular, which is why I can’t sell locally.”

Quinoa was introduced by the erstwhile Ministry of Agriculture and Forests in 2015 with support of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) mainly to reduce the country’s nutritional gaps.

Over the years, records with the agriculture ministry show that both the number of quinoa growers and the area under cultivation are decreasing.

In 2022, there were 331 quinoa growers, fewer than the 698 growers in 2021. In 2020, there were 1,377 growers.

The first statistics for quinoa were included in the agricultural census starting from 2017. The census recorded 70 acres of harvested area, which produced nine metric tonnes of quinoa. From the nine metric tonnes of quinoa harvested, two metric tonnes were sold at a mean price of Nu 125 and a median price of Nu 100, generating revenue of Nu 0.3 million.

In 2020, there were 273.05 acres of land dedicated to quinoa cultivation, resulting in 223.32 acres of harvested area, which produced 102.08 metric tonnes of quinoa. However, by 2022, the area under quinoa cultivation had significantly decreased to only 38.87 acres, with 35.78 acres being harvested land, yielding only 18.33 metric tonnes of quinoa.

This is a reduction of about 85.7 percent in the sown area and a decrease of about 83.9 percent in the harvested area, resulting in a decline of around 82 percent in quinoa production over the two-year period.

“Most people in my village have discontinued cultivating quinoa mainly because of the poor price, if the price keeps declining, I will start growing maize again,” Jamyang Choden said. “Otherwise, quinoa is an easy crop to grow.”

Jamyang is solely in charge of growing quinoa, managing all aspects of cultivation by herself. She begins by planting saplings in August and transplanting them by September, with harvesting taking place between December and January.

“There is no laborious work required for quinoa; excessive watering could cause it to die, minimising the need for irrigation,” Jamyang Choden said. “From spring until autumn, we cultivate potatoes, which demand a great deal of attention. As a result, my husband focuses more on tending to the potato farm. With quinoa, I am capable of handling all the tasks, allowing my husband to pursue other activities.”

Jamyang also manages all the finances and caters to the needs of her family. With the money from the harvest, she buys school supplies for her two children.

“Money from quinoa has been helpful, especially for small-scale farmers like me,” Jamyang said. “However, sometimes it takes about a year to sell quinoa, and we have to store it, but pests like rats can attack it.”