UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday pointed to the nutritional, economic, environmental and cultural value of quinoa for food and nutrition security.
Quinoa can play an important role in helping increasing food production and reducing poverty and increasing access to nutritious food, Ban said here at the General Assembly's launch of the International Year of Quinoa, which themed on "a future sown thousands of years ago" this year.
"I hope this International Year will be a catalyst for learning about the potential of quinoa for food and nutrition security, for reducing poverty, especially among the world's small farmers, and for environmentally sustainable agriculture," Ban said.
Quinoa, which has been traditionally cultivated for thousands of years, is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. Quinoa seeds are gluten-free and have all the essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins needed to survive. Due to its high nutritional value, indigenous peoples and researchers call it "the golden grain of the Andes."
Praising quinoa for its advantages of being both highly nutritious and adaptable, the UN chief said that quinoa can be grown in many different ecological and climatic conditions including where soil moisture is low, which is especially important in a warming world with desertification and land degradation.
Calling it "extraordinary" and a "cultural anchor" in the Andes, Ban noted that quinoa contains all the essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins, but no gluten.
"That is why the government of Bolivia is supplying quinoa as part of a nutritional supplement program to pregnant and nursing women, and Peru is incorporating quinoa in school breakfasts," Ban said.
The UN chief added that quinoa holds the promise of improved income for small-scale farmers, a key plan of his Zero Hunger Challenge, which was launched last year to encourage collaborative action by civil society members and UN departments to provide adequate nutrition to every person in the world.
The latest figures in FAO's State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 Report show that despite significant progress, almost 870 million people - or one in eight - are still suffering from chronic malnutrition.
Food security is one of the top priorities Ban Ki-moon listed when he began his second term as the secretary-general.
Talking about the high prices, Ban also pointed to potential pitfalls, saying that as prices for quinoa rise along with export demand, the poor risk being excluded from their staple grain in local markets.
Such is the so-called quinoa quandary that as the demand for quinoa has grown in recent years, so has its price. Less than 70 dollars per ton a decade ago, quinoa now sells for more than 2,000 dollars, according to FAO figures.
In 2011 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution honoring quinoa with its own year. In doing so, the 193-member body sought to recognize the Andean indigenous people "who have managed to preserve quinoa in its natural state as food for present and future generations, through ancestral practices of living in harmony with nature."