Untapped potential on South American herbaceous plant Quinoa which is favourable on Malawian soils


By Duncan Mlanjira

Malawian farmer, Kingsley Gwaza is amongst Lilongwe-based farmers who growing Quinoa, a herbaceous annual plant that originated from South America and is favourable on Malawian soils.

Quinoa is one of the world’s most popular health foods as it’s gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain sufficient amounts of all nine essential amino acids.


It is also high in fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants, as according to Wikipedia.

And Gwaza said he tried growing it after seeing others do it, who sell it to mostly expatriates and fetches about K6,000 per Kg.

“This can surely replace tobacco government can engage us to grow it at full throttle. It’s very valuable cereal and fetches more money than tobacco that grows favorably on our soils,” Gwaza said.

Wikipedia says this herbaceous crop, that originated in the Andean region of northwestern South America, is grown primarily for its edible seeds that first used as livestock feed but humans started consuming after discovering high nutritional value.

Harvesting time

“Today, almost all production in the Andean region is done by small farms and associations.

“Its cultivation has spread to more than 70 countries, including Kenya, India, the United States and several European countries.

“As a result of increased popularity and consumption in North America, Europe, and Australasia, Quinoa crop prices tripled between 2006 and 2013,” says Wikipedia.


Gwaza’s field of Quinoa

The plant usually grows to about 1-2m (3-7 ft) high and has broad, generally powdery, hairy, lobed leaves, normally arranged alternately.

Its woody central stem is branched or unbranched depending on the variety and may be green, red or purple. The flowering panicles arise from the top of the plant or from leaf axils along the stem. 

The fruits (seeds) are about 2mm in diameter and of various colors — from white to red or black.

In their natural state, the seeds have a coating which contains bitter-tasting saponins, making them unpalatable but beneficial during cultivation, as it deters birds and therefore, the plant requires minimal protection.

The seed when harvested

In South America, the saponins have many uses, including their use as a detergent for clothing and washing, and as a folk medicine antiseptic for skin injuries.

Raw, uncooked quinoa is 13% water, 64% carbohydrates, 14% protein and 6% fat.

Nutritional evaluations indicate that a 100g (3.5 oz) serving of raw quinoa seeds is a rich source — 20% or higher of the daily value (DV) of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins, including 46% DV for folate and the dietary minerals magnesium magnesium, phosphorus and manganese.

Processed product

After cooking, which is the typical preparation for eating the seeds, quinoa is 72% water, 21% carbohydrates, 4% protein, and 2% fat.

Because of the high concentration of protein, ease of use, versatility in preparation, and potential for increased yields in controlled environments, Quinoa has been selected as an experimental crop in National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in its Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration human occupied space flights.

NASA is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. 

That’s how it is served in food

Gwaza, a marketer by profession and farms at an area near Nsundwe in Lilongwe, says the government should diversify by encouraging farmers to grow it since the international market is very vast.

“And we as a country can add value to it by setting up processing plants to package it for the local and international market.”

Gwaza said at an agriculture policy launch that he attended sometime back in Lilongwe, the then World Food Programme country rep had wanted to him to be producing Quinoa for WFP to use in their feed the children in school to replace porridge but he met bureaucratic hurdles that barred him from pursuing the venture.

He has 5.625 hectares of land on which he mostly grows horticultUralic produce and together with with some farmers, they formed a company called Hortimark, who supplies to retail chain stores and some lakeshore resorts.

He also grows pineapples even though it is believed this is a crop specifically for the soils and weather of Thyolo and Mulanje districts.

“You see, pineapples are tropical fruits. I saw a friend Raymond Misomali growing his in Nkhotakota and I said to myself let me give a try.

“As a matter of fact, pineapples from this side are sweeter and big than some of those from Mulanje or Thyolo. This is so because we have more sunlight which is needed during maturity of the fruit. 

Multicolored plant

“Likewise water melons from this side are sweeter. All I can say is every tropical crop can grow anywhere as long as the climate is tropic

“Farming is profitable when you follow best practices and I grow my veggies throughout the year because I use drip and overhead irrigation,”

He says he also rears livestock such especially poultry — local chickens and also have a few kuroiler chickens from Kenya and boschveld chickens from South Africa.

“The veggies I grow are sweet peppers, butternut, zucchini, red and white cabbage, eggplant, onions, and many more. Apart from these I also grow cereals like quinoa, chia seed, sesame and now Quinoa.