developing new food crops. One key feature is that they are developing and promoting the crop simultaneously. Thus, while selecting improved strains and breeding new varieties, they are also visiting farmers and designing suitable implements such as planting and harvesting machines. Moreover, they are investigating the grain's chemistry, processing methods, and culinary uses.
Public interest is now so high that kiwicha is one of the most lucrative crops in Peru. In 1988, farmers were paid 40 intis per kg for kiwicha grain compared with 20–26 intis for corn, 14 intis for barley, and 15–16 intis for wheat. In the Quillabamba area, at least one farmer earned twice as much per hectare from kiwicha as from coca leaves.
And excitement for the ancient Inca grain is spilling over beyond the borders of Peru. For instance, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has provided funds for Sumar to stimulate kiwicha-growing in Bolivia and Ecuador.
In agronomic qualities, the kiwicha plant has made remarkable advances. When the researchers started their work in the early 1980s, top yields were around 1,800 kg per hectare and the average was much lower; now top yields are commonly 5,000–6,000 kg per hectare in experimental plots; average yields are about 3,000 kg per hectare.
A major advance in yield improvement came when types with large, upright seedheads were found. Before that, the plants had “dangling” heads that tended to spill their seed on the ground. (Sumar says, “Kiwicha was asleep five years ago.”) Today's erect types can be cultivated mechanically because few of the seeds fall out when the plants are bumped or shaken.
None of this came easily. The researchers initially gathered 400 lines from different sites and altitudes throughout Peru. After four years of evaluation, 16 lines appeared to have good disease resistance and the potential for high yields in a broad range of environments. After three more years, however, only two lines proved promising for profitable production in farmers' fields.
While searching for types with good field performance, the researchers also located types likely to show good market performance. These had large white seeds with good cooking characteristics. The big breakthrough came when they perfected a blower that could separate large, heavy seeds from small, light seeds (for example, those that were incompletely filled or had loose seed coats). The bigger seeds showed much better germination and vigor, were easier to harvest and handle, and were much more acceptable in the marketplace.
By simultaneously tackling market requirements and farmers' requirements, the researchers have stimulated modern interest in a truly lost crop of the Incas and laid the foundation for its long and lasting future.