Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 441–454 | Cite as

The construction of an alternative quinoa economy: balancing solidarity, household needs, and profit in San Agustín, Bolivia

  • Andrew Ofstehage


Quinoa farmers in San Agustín, Bolivia face the dilemma of producing for a growing international market while defending their community interests and resources, meeting their basic household needs, and making a profit. Farmers responded to a changing market in the 1970s by creating committees in defense of quinoa and farmer cooperatives to represent their interests and maximize economic returns. Today farmer cooperatives offer high, stable prices, politically represent farmers, and are major quinoa exporters, but intermediaries continue to play an important role in the local economy. Meanwhile, some farmers rebuff the national cooperatives and intermediaries in favor of a denomination of origin and closer association with local cooperatives. This article, based on 4 months of ethnographic research, explores the reasons for the continued presence of intermediaries on the market landscape and how farmers have worked to create a quinoa economy embedded with fair trade values. Farmers demand stable prices, flexible standards, provision of services, and promises of maintaining the distinctive qualities of San Agustín quinoa. They frame their trades in economic, utility, and solidarity terms to reflect their livelihood strategies, farming capabilities, and personal concepts of fair trade. Meanwhile cooperatives, development initiatives, and intermediaries each argue that their particular buying practices allow farmers to attain household goods, credit, and cash for food and economic security.


Quinoa Quinua real Bolivia Fair trade Intermediaries Denomination of origin Alternative development Value 



I am deeply grateful for the substantial advice provided by Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, the guidance of Alberto Arce and Pablo Laguna, and the editing done by Amanda Johnson. I am also grateful to the four anonymous reviewers and Dr. Harvey James for their comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

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