Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) is a very important cultivated food crop in the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes for more than 5000 years. Recently quinoa has attracted global attention due to its high nutritional value and strong growth and production potential under abiotic stress conditions such as drought and soil salinity. Apart from the high protein content, the grains are also rich in essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins meeting the requirements of human diets.
Therefore, Quinoa, a nutritious crop for millions of people throughout the Andes, could also play an important role in reducing hunger, malnutrition and poverty in the Near East and North Africa region.
Quinoa is the only plant food that has all the essential nutritional components with broad ability to adapt to different ecological environments and climates. With exceptional resistance to drought, poor soils and high salinity, it can successfully be grown from sea level to an altitude of four thousand meters and withstands temperatures between -8 and 38 degrees Celsius. Majority of the developing countries often cannot produce enough food with high nutritional quality to cater for the daily needs of the population.
As the world faces the alarming challenge of enhancing the production of quality food to feed a growing population in a changing climate, quinoa could offer an alternative food source for countries suffering from nutrition and food insecurity. Quinoa can also be utilized in baby food formulations as well as mixed with flour in bakery products such as local bread playing a vital role in reducing malnutrition and hunger in the region.
Quinoa as a newly introduced food crop could replenish part of food gap in the NENA region due to its tolerance to drought and salinity, adaptation to sandy soil of arid and semiarid regions. Quinoa being a highly nutritious food crop with an outstanding protein content and quality, a high content of a range of vitamins and essential minerals could also provide good quality bread and other seed products for people dedicated to pastoralism such as the Bedouin populations who inhabit the steppe and desert regions. On the other hand, quinoa, being gluten-free, can be extremely important as source of food for people suffering from celiac disease (allergy to gluten), who could not be fed with wheat products.
Keeping in view its unique nutritional characteristics and adaptability to a wide range of agro-ecological conditions especially in the marginal areas, FAORNE has initiated a Regional Project TCP/RAB/3403-Technical assistance for the introduction of Quinoa and appropriation/ institutionalization of its production in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Mauritania, Sudan, and Yemen.
The Regional TCP Project aims at strengthening the regional collaboration, coordination, information, knowledge exchange and capacity development for enhanced evaluation, identification, multiplication, postharvest, processing, marketing, and utilization of Quinoa cultivars for selection of elite varieties with suitable adaptation to environmental stresses - especially in the marginal areas where majority of the crops could not be grown economically. Initial FAO variety selection and adaptation studies have indicated that quinoa productivity could be sustainable in all the project participating countries as well as in other regional countries with similar pedo-climatic conditions.