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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.


The Andes. For people who live on subsistence agriculture in the altiplano, kaniwa is extremely important. Given promotion5 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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