Existing historical evidence indicates that the domestication of quinoa by the peoples of America may have occurred between 3,000 and 5,000 years BCE.
There is early evidence of its morphology on pottery from the Tiahuanaco culture (Bolivia) depicting a quinoa plant with several panicles along its stem, which would suggest one of the more primitive strains of the plant.
During domestication the Andean populations no doubt selected genotypes according to use and tolerance to adverse biotic and abiotic factors, resulting in today’s plants and ecotypes with their different characteristics.
The farmers of the salt lakes region of Bolivia are the proud growers of the most valuable of this strands, known as Royal Quinoa.
The Incas considered Royal Quinoa a sacred food, a gift from the Gods. They called it “La Chisiya Mama”: the mother of grains.
In Bolivia royal quinoa is still part of the mysticism and culture of the native population.
Until a few years ago, quinoa was sown by hand and exclusively by women as they were believed to pass on their fertility to the land. The tools they used were small rustic instruments such as the Taquiza, Liukána or Tank´ana that were used to poke holes and cover the seeds so as not to create grooves that would lead to unnecessary evaporation of the scares humidity in the ground.
Royal quinoa farmers still weed their fields by hand and keep a watchful eye out for mice, rabbits and other pests. Some animals are, however, a very important part of royal quinoa farming; llama-dung is used as fertilizer. Farmers must keep large numbers of grazing llama herds in order to fertilize their crops.
Once the plant has reached maturity, some 90 to 120 days after the seeds were sown, farmers perform a ceremony to ask the plant whether it is ready to give its seeds. When the plants become a reddish yellow, one of them is shaken and if some grains come of it, it means that it is time for harvesting.
Most royal quinoa is harvested by hand, although mechanization is on the rise. Farmers thresh their own royal quinoa by hand before it is traded in local markets.
The large and sudden increase in world demand for royal quinoa has changed the lives of local farmers and their families. Modernization has come in the form of tractors and machinery that allow the cultivation of flatlands that were previously very hard to farm.
The impact on their livelihood has been very positive as their new earnings have resulted in an increase in school attendance and a reduction of migrations to the cities.
The increased demand has also resulted in a renewed strengthening of communities as they train and learn to comply with international standards and organic regulations.