Farmers take up quinoa farming in Namgaycholing

If the pilot project succeeds, farmers want to cultivate quinoa on a large scale next year

Farmers from almost around 30 households in Namgaycholing gewog in Samtse have started working on quinoa cultivation for the first time this year.

Cultivation has already been done on a small scale in the five chiwogs of the gewog as a pilot project. Altogether, 2.8 acres of land have been used for quinoa cultivation in Namgaycholing.

A 21-year-old farmer, Hem Bdr. Ghalley, has cultivated quinoa in his15 decimals plot.

He says they are growing the crop for the first time and that they are excited.

“If it succeeds, we can substitute it for imported rice from India,” he said, adding he also plans to start mass cultivation next year like other crops.

Quinoa is a staple diet and is considered as an alternative to other cereals. Quinoas are also expensive and cost more than Nu 100 per kilogram. The crop is cultivated in October and takes three months to ripe and harvest. The rain fed crop can be cultivated in dry lands.

Namgaycholing’s Agriculture Field Extension Officer Dorji Wangchuk said being a pilot project, the crop, after harvest, will be supplied to RNR Research Center in Yusipang in Thimphu for supplying the seeds to other regions. Samtse has been selected for this crop cultivation. Samtse dzongkhag is supplied with three varieties of quinoa out of the total13. The government had distributed the seeds last year.

Quinoa reportedly originated in the Andean region of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Chile and was domesticated 3,000 to 4,000 years ago for human consumption in the Lake Titicaca basin of Peru and Bolivia, though archaeological evidence shows a non-domesticated association with pastoral herding 5,200 to 7,000 years ago.

“If people work with interest, they can harvest and can supplement other cereals,” Dorji Wangchuk said. “The cereal with protein content is considered soft and can be best for elderly as it is easier to chew. Quinoa is used to make a variety of dishes such as rice, porridge, desi and salad. It also can be used to make flour,” he added.

Meanwhile, another farmer from Namgaycholing, Tirtha Raj Sharma, also wants to plant quinoa on a large scale if the pilot project succeeds.

“Apart from being food supplement, it can also be used as cattle feed,” he said. He has 20 decimals of land under quinoa cultivation.

Namgaycholing Gup Ratna Bdr Ghalley said interests from the villagers are increasing. He hopes that the farmers can start the cultivation in the same way like other crops.

“Since cardamom is failing across the country, quinoa can be cultivated as an alternative crop to supplement and let the farmers earn. We are expecting more farmers to start quinoa cultivation. It can lift up the farmers economically and if consumed can supplement other crops and curb the import of rice from India,” he said.

After harvest, the quinoa seeds are reportedly processed to remove the outer coating that contains bitter-tasting saponins. They are gluten-free. Generally, the seeds are cooked the same way as rice and can be used in a wide range of dishes. And when cooked, the nutrient composition is somewhat similar to common cereals like wheat and rice because quinoa supplies a moderate amount of dietary fiber and minerals.

Krishna Ghalley from Samtse