Special Feature — April 17, 2014, 12:30 pm

Native Lands

Photographs from the birthplace of quinoa

Many people consider quinoa to be a vital tool for food security in the era of climate change. But in order to be grown outside its native climate, this crop must be adapted by plant breeders. The challenge is that quinoa’s seed is tightly controlled by Bolivia and other Andean nations. Working with the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN), writer and photographer Lisa M. Hamilton has investigated the worldwide fight over the genetic resources behind this miracle grain. “The Quinoa Quarrel,” in the May 2014 issue of Harper’s Magazine, is available on newsstands and online (subscription required). In this photo essay, Hamilton shows us the unique land from which quinoa originates.

To write “The Quinoa Quarrel,” I visited the Bolivian Altiplano, a vast, spare plateau in the Andes. With sharp mountain peaks rising on every horizon, the place has a vivid, raw beauty. But on the ground, natural wealth is sparse. At its lowest points, the Altiplano is already 11,000 feet above sea level, which means the air is thin, the sun is searing, and trees are rare. What plants do grow here have coarse leaves and hug the ground, to survive the chilling winds.

And yet, the Altiplano has supported indigenous communities for nearly twenty thousand years. These people credit their survival, in part, to quinoa. As some tell it, the story begins long ago, when drought brought hunger to the land. To help, the Aymara god Thunupa sent to earth a beautiful young emissary, who walked the length of the Altiplano. In her footsteps grew a miraculous plant that could withstand drought, cold, and even salt, and still produce a nutritious grain. It was the people’s deliverance, and to this day quinoa evokes in them both gratitude and pride. They call it el grano de oro, “the golden grain.”

One might guess that if transplanted to Iowa, this husky plant would flourish. But while at lower altitudes and with generous precipitation quinoa will often grow vigorously, it will not necessarily produce food. If the temperature gets too high, its flowers simply abort. It could be said that when Thunupa gave quinoa to the Altiplano, she was not concerned with the rest of the world. But with the global market clamoring for the immensely nutritious grain, and an increasingly food-insecure world looking for more-resilient crops, plant breeders are now trying to coax it down to the lowlands.

These photographs from my journey are a glimpse of how distant quinoa’s homeland is from the familiar farmlands where Americans and others want to grow it. But it is also a record of the connection the Altiplano’s people have to their home, and to this miraculous plant.

All photographs © Lisa M. Hamilton

 

Thunupa © Lisa M. Hamilton
The Aymara believe that Thunupa is embodied in a volcano, on the left, whose soft peak rises above the town and fields of Jirira, in Bolivia’s Southern Altiplano.
 

 

Quinoa harvesters in Jirira, Bolivia © Lisa M. Hamilton
Quinoa harvesters in Jirira use a weed whacker to cut the stalk at ground level. Plants are then stacked, dried, threshed, and winnowed by hand.
 

 

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia © Lisa M. Hamilton
Jirira lies on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest saltpan. Because quinoa tolerates saline soil, it can grow right up to the slushy edge of the salar.
 

 

German “Thunupa” Nina © Lisa M. Hamilton
German “Thunupa” Nina of Jirira is a leader in the fight to ensure that the quinoa boom benefits indigenous farmers like him rather than corporations or foreign growers.
 

 

Harvested quinoa, Viacha, Bolivia © Lisa M. Hamilton
Harvested quinoa at the PROINPA Foundation’s research station in the Northern Altiplano town Viacha. This Bolivian organization works to conserve and improve indigenous Andean crops.
 

 

Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio © Lisa M. Hamilton
Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio, an indigenous Aymara and a world authority on quinoa, strums the charango and sings a love song to his home on the Altiplano. His native village is Lluqu, which in Aymara means “heart.”
 

 

PROINPA greenhouse © Lisa M. Hamilton
A whiteboard reading NO DESORDENE POR FAVOR (DON’T MAKE A MESS, PLEASE) inside the PROINPA greenhouse, where Bonifacio and his staff breed improved varieties of quinoa.
 

 

Mylar maypole © Lisa M. Hamilton
A Mylar maypole, erected on one of of PROINPA’s research plots to scare off birds. People around the world agree that quinoa needs protection, but the question remains: Who should be allowed to shepherd it into the uncertain future?
 
Share
Single Page

More from Lisa M. Hamilton:

From the May 2014 issue

The Quinoa Quarrel

Who owns the world’s greatest superfood?

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2017

Document of Barbarism

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Destroyer of Worlds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Crossing Guards

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I am Here Only for Working”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dear Rose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Year of The Frog

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Destroyer of Worlds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In February 1947, Harper’s Magazine published Henry L. Stimson’s “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” As secretary of war, Stimson had served as the chief military adviser to President Truman, and recommended the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The terms of his unrepentant apologia, an excerpt of which appears on page 35, are now familiar to us: the risk of a dud made a demonstration too risky; the human cost of a land invasion would be too high; nothing short of the bomb’s awesome lethality would compel Japan to surrender. The bomb was the only option. Seventy years later, we find his reasoning unconvincing. Entirely aside from the destruction of the blasts themselves, the decision thrust the world irrevocably into a high-stakes arms race — in which, as Stimson took care to warn, the technology would proliferate, evolve, and quite possibly lead to the end of modern civilization. The first half of that forecast has long since come to pass, and the second feels as plausible as ever. Increasingly, the atmosphere seems to reflect the anxious days of the Cold War, albeit with more juvenile insults and more colorful threats. Terms once consigned to the history books — “madman theory,” “brinkmanship” — have returned to the news cycle with frightening regularity. In the pages that follow, seven writers and experts survey the current nuclear landscape. Our hope is to call attention to the bomb’s ever-present menace and point our way toward a world in which it finally ceases to exist.

Illustration by Darrel Rees. Source photographs: Kim Jong-un © ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy Stock Photo; Donald Trump © Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Newscom
Article
Crossing Guards·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ambassador Bridge arcs over the Detroit River, connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, the southernmost city in Canada. Driving in from the Canadian side, where I grew up, is like viewing a panorama of the Motor City’s rise and fall, visible on either side of the bridge’s turquoise steel stanchions. On the right are the tubular glass towers of the Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors, and Michigan Central Station, the rail terminal that closed in 1988. On the left is a rusted industrial corridor — fuel tanks, docks, abandoned warehouses. I have taken this route all my life, but one morning this spring, I crossed for the first time in a truck.

Illustration by Richard Mia
Article
“I am Here Only for Working”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

But the exercise of labor is the worker’s own life-activity, the manifestation of his own life. . . . He works in order to live. He does not even reckon labor as part of his life, it is rather a sacrifice of his life.

— Karl Marx

Photograph from the United Arab Emirates by the author. This page: Ruwais Mall
Article
The Year of The Frog·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

To look at him, Sweet Macho was a beautiful horse, lean and strong with muscles that twitched beneath his shining black coat. A former racehorse, he carried himself with ceremony, prancing the field behind our house as though it were the winner’s circle. When he approached us that day at the edge of the yard, his eyes shone with what might’ve looked like intelligence but was actually a form of insanity. Not that there was any telling our mother’s boyfriend this — he fancied himself a cowboy.

“Horse 1,” by Nine Francois. Courtesy the artist and AgavePrint, Austin, Texas
Article
Dead Ball Situation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

What We Think About When We Think About Soccer, by Simon Critchley. Penguin Books. 224 pages. $20.

Begin, as Wallace Stevens didn’t quite say, with the idea of it. I so like the idea of Simon Critchley, whose books offer philosophical takes on a variety of subjects: Stevens, David Bowie, suicide, humor, and now football — or soccer, as the US edition has it. (As a matter of principle I shall refer to this sport throughout as football.) “All of us are mysteriously affected by our names,” decides one of Milan Kundera’s characters in Immortality, and I like Critchley because his name would seem to have put him at a vocational disadvantage compared with Martin Heidegger, Søren Kierkegaard, or even, in the Anglophone world, A. J. Ayer or Richard Rorty. (How different philosophy might look today if someone called Nobby Stiles had been appointed as the Wykeham Professor of Logic.)

Tostão, No. 9, and Pelé, No. 10, celebrate Carlos Alberto’s final goal for Brazil in the World Cup final against Italy on June 21, 1970, Mexico City © Heidtmann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Chances a loan cosigner in the United States will end up repaying some part of the loan:

2 in 5

Americans of both sexes prefer the body odors of people with similar political beliefs.

The case was assigned to a Trump-appointed judge, who ruled that, despite the 2010 legislation, the acting director was Mulvaney, who received about $475,000 in contributions from the financial, insurance, and real estate industries during his 2016 congressional campaign, including $9,200 from JPMorgan Chase, which was fined $4.6 million by the CFPB for failing to provide consumers with information about checking account denials.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today