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Page 129 Kaniwa Kaniwa (Chenopodium pallidicaule) is a remarkably nutritious grain of the high Andes that has been described as helping to “sustain untold generations of Indians in one of the world's most difficult agricultural regions.” 1 Kaniwa (pronounced kan-yi-wa) reigns in the extreme highland environment where wheat, rye, and corn grow unreliably or not at all because of the often intense cold. Even barley and quinoa (see page 149) cannot yield dependably at the altitudes where kaniwa grows. In its native area, for example, year-round temperatures average less than 10°C, and frost occurs during at least nine months a year, including the height of the growing season. 2 Kaniwa is so cold hardy that in the high Andes it serves subsistence farmers as a “safety-net.” When all else fails, kaniwa still provides food. Indeed, it is perhaps more resistant than any other grain crop to a combination of frost, drought, salt, and pests—and few other food plants are as easy to grow or demand such little care. Moreover, although its grains are small, few cereals can match their protein content of around 16 percent. Although kaniwa produces a cereal-like seed, 3 it is not a true cereal but a broad-leaved plant in the same botanical genus as quinoa. At the time of the Conquest, kaniwa grain was an important food in the high Andes. It is still widely grown, but only in the Peruvian and Bolivian altiplano—a lofty, semiarid plateau hemmed in by high ranges of the central Andes (see map page 133). Most kaniwa is consumed by the family that grows it, but some can be bought in Andean markets, especially near Puno. The plant is not completely domesticated, and it often grows almost like a weed, reseeding itself year after year. (Farmers like it, however, 1 Gade, 1970. During Inca times, however, it reportedly was restricted to the Inca emperor himself and to his court; the general population was forbidden to eat this “royal food.” 2 Kaniwa possibly may resist cold because a special anatomical structure protects its flowers from damage at temperatures as low as −3°C. 3 As harvested, the “seed” is actually a hard-walled fruit (achene) containing the true seed.
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Page 130 and encourage this “weed” to grow in their plots of potatoes, quinoa, or barley.) Its seeds—unlike those of quinoa—contain little or no saponins and can be eaten without elaborate processing. However, harvesting and dehusking them is laborious. Kaniwa requires much scientific attention before it reaches its true potential. At present, it exhibits many of the adverse characteristics of semidomesticated plants: for example, great variation in appearance and time to maturity, and failure of plants from the same seed to ripen at the same time. It also exhibits the favorable characteristics of a rustic crop: self-sufficiency and adaptation to widely varying habitats, for instance. With selection for plant type, nonshattering seedheads, uniformity, and higher yield, kaniwa would prove to be a valuable “life-support crop” 4 for extreme highlands throughout the world. Indeed, as an almost fail-proof backstop for conventional grains, it may open a more efficient agricultural use of the world's highest cultivated terrain. PROSPECTS The Andes. For people who live on subsistence agriculture in the altiplano, kaniwa is extremely important. Given promotion 5 and research support, its production could increase greatly. Because broad climatic fluctuations are the norm throughout the highlands, this extremely resilient plant should be tested as a food, feed, and cash crop over a much wider area. Although it is unlikely ever to be a substantial food of the whole Andean region, kaniwa will continue as a vital agricultural support that sustains the lives of many highland peoples, especially during the most difficult times. By standing between total crop failure and starvation—especially in high-altitude, marginal areas—it will always be important to the well-being and stability of the region. For this reason alone, it deserves far greater research attention. Other Developing Areas. Because of its adaptability to cold and aridity, kaniwa could expand the amount of cultivable land in some marginal tropical highlands. 6 However, this is a distant prospect 4 This term was coined by Promila Kapoor, an expert on Himalayan chenopods that are related to kaniwa. 5 At present, many Indians are reluctant to grow kaniwa because it is so associated with extreme cold that they fear its cultivation will encourage frost. Information from R.T. Wood. 6 A related species, Chenopodium album, has been used for centuries in the Himalayas for its seed and leaves, and it is deeply entrenched in traditional horticulture and foods. See T. Partap, 1985. The Himalayan grain chenopods. I. Distribution and ethnobotany. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment14:185–199.
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Page 131 ~ enlarge ~ Fields of kaniwa, Patacama, Bolivia. (M. Tapia) because even in the Andes the crop is not well understood, nor have its various types been fully collected and compared. Moreover, its acceptability in diets outside the Andes is uncertain. Industrialized Regions. Kaniwa seems to have little immediate potential as a cash crop for North America, Europe, or other industrialized areas. The lack of knowledge of its productivity and mechanized cultivation would make it a risky commercial undertaking. Nonetheless, kaniwa is one of the most nutritious grains and most resilient plants known. It could perhaps prove useful as a forage crop or as a specialty grain for nutritionally conscious consumers. For instance, kaniwa could become popular among vegetarians and “health-food” consumers, as is happening with quinoa. USES The seed is usually toasted and ground to form a brownish flour (kañihuaco) that is consumed with sugar or added to soups. It is also used with wheat flour in breads, cakes, and puddings. And it is made into a hot beverage, similar to hot chocolate, and sold on the streets of cities such as Cuzco and Puno.
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Page 132 The leaves are especially high in calcium, and the plant is valued for soil improvement. It also provides a forage that is especially important for animal survival during droughts, when other forage is scarce. Farmers sometimes grow it above 3,800 m in the altiplano, where its biomass is comparable to, or greater than, that of other forages. Fresh forage yields of 24 tons per hectare have been reported. The grain is also a potential feed. In one test, a mix of 80 percent kaniwa grain, 9 percent fishmeal, and 6 percent cottonseed meal yielded results equal to those of a commercially produced poultry ration. 7 NUTRITION Kaniwa seed adds high-quality protein to meat-scarce diets. This is particularly important because in the Andes, as well as in other tropical highlands, millions of people survive primarily on starchy tubers. The protein content of the grain is extremely high. Moreover, it has an exceptional amino-acid balance, being notably rich in lysine, isoleucine, and tryptophan. This protein quality, in combination with a carbohydrate content of nearly 60 percent and a vegetable oil content of 8 percent, 8 makes kaniwa exceptionally nutritious. Kaniwa foliage is also nutritious and can be used as a potherb. The leaves of young plants (at about a month and a half after planting) have protein contents as high as 30 percent (dry weight). The crop residue is highly digestible, mineral rich, and valuable for livestock feed. AGRONOMY To plant kaniwa, farmers usually broadcast unselected seed over the land. Often they choose soils loosened by previous tuber crops. The seed also can be successfully planted using mechanical equipment. After sowing, weeding and thinning are beneficial, but the growing plants are normally given little or no attention until harvest (this is mainly because weeds are scarce where kaniwa is grown, since weather conditions limit the growth of most other plants). Kaniwa responds well to nitrogen and phosphorus, although in the rural Andes fertilizers are rarely used. Because it has a short, stout stem, the plant resists strong winds and heavy rains. By the time it is 5 cm high, it seems quite resistant to drought. In addition, it is more resistant than barley and quinoa to unusually low night temperatures. 7 Tapia et al., 1979. 8 This is also a remarkably high figure for a grain, but it could be a problem, for in milled grains the fat oxidizes and makes flour production and storage more difficult.
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Page 133 ~ enlarge ~ Kaniwa is grown in scattered plots on marginal land throughout the altiplano region (dotted), mainly at altitudes over 3,800 m. However, only in a small area (crosshatched) north of Lake Titicaca is it grown intensively on a large scale. (Map courtesy J. Risi C. and N.W. Galwey) HARVESTING AND HANDLING The most common varieties take about 150 days to reach maturity; however, at least one quick-maturing type can be harvested 95 days after sowing. Current varieties must be harvested before they mature fully; otherwise the seeds scatter on the ground. Several harvests are usually needed to get the whole crop, because the fields contain mixtures of types, and different plants ripen as much as several weeks apart. Normally, the entire plant is uprooted bodily.
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Page 134 The plants are threshed immediately after harvesting and again after air-drying, by which time more seeds have matured and loosened. Mechanical threshers have been tried with success. Under field conditions, seed yields of 2,400 kg per hectare have been reported; in experimental plots, twice that has been obtained. 9 Kaniwa seed is tedious to prepare, for it is enclosed in a papery covering (a remnant of the flower called a “perigonium”) that must be removed. The covering is loosened by soaking, following which it is rubbed off. As now grown, kaniwa seems resistant to major plant diseases (this may be largely because in the cold, arid regions where it grows, the diseases are, relatively speaking, not serious). The flowers and leaves are sometimes infected with mildew, but this generally disappears and apparently has little lasting effect on seed yield. Some quinoa pests are also found on kaniwa. Minor damage is done by insects such as cutworms, beetles, and aphids. LIMITATIONS With such a little-studied crop, the uncertainties are manifold. For instance, kaniwa may have strict latitudinal limits; it may be restricted to high altitudes; it may succumb to diseases, pests, and weeds when grown outside its now almost competition-free environment; and it may require the intense sunlight (insolation) of its native home. Known limitations include the fact that kaniwa must be harvested and threshed several times, and that preparing its seed is laborious. Also, its seed is not white. Currently, there are two colors: black and dark brown; most types are brown-seeded. The plant's small, closed, normally hermaphroditic flowers make cross-breeding for crop improvement even more difficult than usual in a grain crop. RESEARCH NEEDS Kaniwa needs a great deal of experimental work, especially concerning its agronomy. So far, plant improvement has been limited to a small amount of germplasm evaluation, cytological studies, and the production of tetraploid specimens to increase the size of the seeds. 9 In Puno, Peru, small-plot trials identified three ecotypes that yielded 5,000 kg per hectare even after being subjected to three frosts of −8°C. In the surrounding area, quinoa, barley, potatoes, and winter wheat had all suffered severe frost damage. Information from J. Risi.
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Page 135 As a first step, a major germplasm collection and evaluation should be made. Seed should be collected both from the wild and from farmers' fields. Variation in color, sensitivity to daylength, uniformity of maturation, yield, susceptibility to pests, and adaptation—particularly to cold and salinity—should be noted. It is vital when breeding improved kaniwa to get plants with seeds of uniform maturity that stay in the seedhead as it dries out and that can be easily husked. Such nonshattering plants with easily husked seeds would usher in a vastly expanded future for kaniwa. In some circumstances, mechanized threshing would also help. The plant's potential as a fodder deserves intense investigation. Because it grows readily at high altitudes where traditional forage crops fare poorly, it could help extend the usefulness of many now-marginal lands. It is highly digestible, nutritious, and mineral rich, and can be left standing in the field as a reserve for use when pastures dry up and forage is scarce. Kaniwa's value as a source of genes for other chenopods is worth investigating. For example, although quinoa is not closely related, kaniwa genes might prove transferable using modern techniques, and they might contribute increased hardiness, dwarf stature, and saponin-free seed coats to the quinoa crop. Trials should be performed outside kaniwa's native region to measure the plant's geographical adaptability. Together with other “life-support crops” from the Andes, the Himalayas, and elsewhere, kaniwa should be put into high-altitude trials and tested for its potential to sustain life in Asia and Africa as it has been doing for millennia in the Andean heights. SPECIES INFORMATION Botanical Name Chenopodium pallidicaule Aellen Family Chenopodiaceae (the family of lambs-quarters) Synonym Chenopodium canihua Cook Common Names Quechua: kañiwa, kañawa, kañahua, kañagua, quitacañigua, ayara, cuchi-quinoa Aymara: iswalla hupa, ahara hupa, aara, ajara, cañahua, kañawa Spanish: cañihua, cañigua, cañahua, cañagua, kañiwa English: kaniwa, canihua Origins. Kaniwa's origins are uncertain, but it is almost certainly an Andean native. It has a strong tendency to “volunteer” itself in
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Page 136 highland fields, which may explain how it came to be adopted for cultivation. At the time of the Conquest it was cultivated over a much wider area than at present. Description. Kaniwa is a highly variable, weedy annual that is normally between 20 and 60 cm high. It is erect or semiprostrate, highly branched at the base, with a vigorous but shallow taproot. Red, yellow, or green patches and streaks occur in the stalks and leaves, increasing in size and width towards the base of the plant. The hermaphrodite flowers are inconspicuous, and are formed along the forks of the stem. Because at fertility the flower is closed, kaniwa is almost exclusively self-pollinating. The numerous seeds (achenes) are approximately 1 mm in diameter (about the size of amaranth grains or half the size of quinoa grains), and have a clasping, papery covering. Most seed coats range in color from chestnut brown to black. Compared with conventional grains, the embryo is large in relation to the seed size. Horticultural Varieties. Agronomic classifications have been devised based on plant shape and seed color. There are two “ecotypes”: an erect plant (saihua) with 3–5 basal branches and determinate growth, and a semierect type (lasta) with more than 6 basal branches and indeterminate growth. Each of these types is further classified by the black or brown color of the seed. The erect types usually grow faster for about 70 days, at which time dry-matter production ceases and the plants flower. The semierect types continue to grow throughout the season, and eventually produce more stems and dry matter than the erect types. Some 380 accessions have been collected and are under evaluation in Puno, Peru. Environmental Requirements Daylength. All genotypes tested have been daylength neutral, and kaniwa has produced seed in England. In field trials in Finland, 35 ecotypes (collected from Puno, Peru) produced mature grains at latitude 60°49'N, and 5 ecotypes matured grains at 64°41'N. 10 10 Although seed production was apparently unaffected by daylength, plant growth was poor, probably because of low light intensity and weed competition. Information from J. Risi. In field trials carried out in Finland, 35 ecotypes from Puno, Peru, produced mature grains at 60°49′N, and 5 at 64°41′N. Carmen, 1984.
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Page 137 Rainfall. 300–1,100 mm around Lake Titicaca; requires moisture at the early growth stages, resists drought after establishment. The plants seem susceptible to excess humidity. Altitude. Today, kaniwa is rarely cultivated below 3,800 m (below this, quinoa predominates). The upper limit is nearly 4,400 m in protected areas. Low Temperature. Kaniwa is remarkably cold tolerant. It will germinate at 5°C, flower at 10°C, and mature seed at 15°C. Adult plants are unaffected by nightly frosts. High Temperature. Midday temperatures in the altiplano are usually only 14–18°C, but kaniwa can withstand relatively warm conditions (up to 25°C) given sufficient soil moisture and air movement. It tolerates broad swings in temperature and high insolation. Soil Type. Prefers an open, friable soil. Because of its short taproot, it seems particularly suited to shallow soils. It is successfully cultivated in soils ranging from pH 4.8–8.5, and shows some salt-tolerance. Related Species. Kaniwa was long considered a weedy variety of quinoa, but chromosomal studies have confirmed that the two belong to separate species complexes (kaniwa has a chromosomal designation of 2n = 2x = 18; quinoa has 2n = 4x = 36). The nearest morphological relatives are Chenopodium carnosulum and C. scabricaule from Patagonia. 11 The greatest diversity of related species in South America (assignable to the same subsection of Chenopodium as kaniwa) is centered around Argentina's pampas and western highlands. However, the most common and widespread species is C. petiolare, which extends far into the Andes, and often grows interspersed with kaniwa. Although it produces little grain, it is “semiperennial,” and sometimes will produce seed over several seasons. C. petiolare, along with other kaniwa relatives, merits much further attention from botanists and agronomists. 12 11 Information from L. Giusti. 12 Information from H. Wilson and L. Giusti.
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