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Photo courtesy of Damiana Astudillo

In the Altiplano region of Southern Bolivia, where an arid landscape and harsh temperature extremes make farming difficult, farm families are finding opportunity in producing quinoa, a high-protein grain that is part of the traditional local diet but has given way in recent years to less nutritional, processed foods that have become easier to obtain. While the decreased consumption of quinoa can be attributed to a number of factors, one of the main obstacles is the amount of time and work required to process the grains, which have to be scrubbed of a substance called saponin.

Traditionally performed by women, this task is painstaking and debilitating to their health. The grains must be toasted, trampled in a stone bowl with bare feet, air-cleaned through pouring by hand, rinsed with water, and dried in the sun — a process that typically requires as much as six hours of labor to process 12kg of grain. Fortunately, there is a small machine that can process the same amount of grain in about seven minutes, while preserving more of the nutritional value of the quinoa. While the $800 price of the machine is beyond the reach of most families in this impoverished region, the research-for-development CGIAR organization Bioversity International is working to distribute the machines to communities for quinoa farm families to use on a fee basis as they process their grains.

In light of the local food security, health and nutritional gains, and new market and employment opportunities for women that this mechanization can bring, the mechanization of quinoa farming holds enormous promise for the future of these poor highland farm communities.