Quinoa in Ecuador: Elisa Cardenas Oleas Talks About Her Dissertation

March 21, 2018

Quinoa fiel

I am a PhD candidate in Sustainable Agriculture and Sociology with a research focus on the social and economic impacts of quinoa production among indigenous women in Ecuador. I earned two master’s degrees from Iowa State University in 2014, one in Sustainable Agriculture and another in Community and Regional Planning. During my masters’ research on quinoa production, I learned that while indigenous groups are disproportionately marginalized in Ecuador, indigenous women face increased vulnerabilities in agriculture. Thus, I decided to study indigenous women’s empowerment and the struggles they face in the quinoa sector, particularly since the crop, due to its high demand in rich countries, can provide an economic opportunity in developing countries.

Quinoa is a culturally and historically important seed (not a grain nor a cereal) to indigenous groups in the Andes of South America. Criticisms have emerged stating that producers often sell all of their crop instead of consuming it, but research has also shown that many producers keep portions of their quinoa crop for nutrition and to preserve cultural traditions. For example, social movements in Ecuador and other Andean nations, have advocated for native Andean agriculture by encouraging governments to use quinoa to strengthen cultural identity and decrease malnutrition. Thus, I will analyze an indigenously managed agricultural cooperative that uses quinoa, a crop that has been historically marginalized in the country after colonization due to its roots with indigenous culture, as a way to decrease indigenous discrimination while increasing economic opportunities nationally and internationally. In the fall of 2018, I plan to travel to Ecuador to collect data.

To help prepare for my doctoral research, I will attend a qualitative research methods conference at the University of Alberta in Calgary, Canada, in April 2018. This opportunity is possible due to the scholarship from the Sociology Department at Iowa State University. Currently, I work as a part-time employee in the Office of Graduate and Professional Studies at Texas A&M University.