Pioneering Kyrgyzstan farmer catches the quinoa wave

UNCT-KG-FAO-Qinoa©FAO/Vyacheslav Oselendko

As protein-rich quinoa becomes a trendy food choice worldwide, one pioneering farmer in remote Kyrgyzstan is reaping the benefits.

Azamat Kaseev in Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul province harvested his quinoa crop earlier this month. Equipment, training, field testing and more were provided under an FAO project designed to test the feasibility of quinoa cultivation here – far from the plant’s South American origins. The project also aimed to promote the consumption of quinoa to address food insecurity in the country.

In 2013, quinoa seeds purchased in Latin America under a public tender were distributed to farmers in all seven provinces of Kyrgyzstan. Test plots were chosen to represent both irrigated and non-irrigated areas, territories with different altitudes, and other general conditions. Then the farmers received training on quinoa cultivation.

To date, Kaseev is the only Kyrgyz farmer succeeding with quinoa, and year by year he has been steadily expanding the area planted to quinoa. This year he grew nearly one hectare of the culture.

The quinoa plant – a stranger to Central Asia – requires some very specific growing conditions.

“It needs a big difference between day and night temperatures,” Kasen said, “along with dry climate and high altitude.” The crop season in 2016 was rainy, he added, so the quinoa plants did not grow as tall and the harvest will be less than in 2015.

The FAO project also tested different quinoa varieties. Kaseev said he found that the Bolivian varieties called Titicaca and Regalona fared best in his fields.

Consumer demand for quinoa is on the rise, thanks in part to an information campaign conducted by FAO’s office in Kyrgyzstan. Kaseev said he had been approached by Frunze supermarket, along with several restaurants in Bishkek, in search of reliable suppliers of large quantities. And requests continue to arrive from farmers interested in growing the crop.

“Next year I’m planning to expand my quinoa area up to 60 hectares,” he said, and share his knowledge and experience with others. Earlier this year, Kaseev provided field training on quinoa for farmers in Georgia.

At a café in Bishkek next week, Kyrgyzstan’s quinoa pioneer will lead a “quinoa tasting” event – for farmers, supermarket managers, restaurants and the general public.