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Quinoa Technical Training with the Al Khayr Co-op

Houria Chouhab

HAF Field Officer

When I joined the Farmer-to-Farmer program at the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), I learned that there are certain steps to follow in order to make an assignment work. The first stage is to collect the data either through participatory approach methods or women’s empowerment workshops, and the goal of this data collection is to identify the specific areas where technical assistance is needed, define expected outcomes and objectives, and recruit a volunteer expert with the relevant technical expertise.

The Farmer-to-Farmer team provides the Volunteer - an expert in the agricultural and business development fields - with all necessary information before the assignment begins. The Volunteer works closely with the host organization (HO) (association, cooperative, education center, or community) to provide technical assistance. The Farmer-to-Farmer team monitors the progress of the Volunteer and HO, and the impact of their work, collects feedback, and follows up with the HO after the assignment is complete. Finally, a report is prepared that summarizes the assignment's results, including the achievements and lessons learned.

To me, the most essential phase is Volunteer recruitment. The F2F team has to choose the right Volunteer with the most relevant technical expertise to address the identified needs. The Volunteer may come from a range of backgrounds – agriculture, business, or technical – and ideally has experience working in a context where their skills are transferable. The team also considers factors like language, cultural sensitivity, and compatibility with the requesting HO.

The topic of our assignment in Guercif province with the Agricultural Cooperative Al Khayr is ‘Quinoa Production’. This HO was given grant material related to quinoa production, and in a meeting with the cooperative’s president during a previous visit, she expressed her desire to benefit from training about quinoa culture. The F2F team returned to their list of Volunteers and looked for the best fit for this workshop. Abdelazize Kaine, with whom the F2F team had previously worked, was chosen to conduct this skills-building in Guercif.

On May 8th, the F2F team headed to the Oriental-Oujda region in order to meet with Al Khayr Cooperative members and spend a week together full of quinoa culture discussions and workshops. Due to the absence of hotels or guest houses in the area, the F2F team and the Volunteer were graciously hosted by the president of the cooperative. This provided an opportunity for the President and the Volunteer to benefit from additional conversations.

The local volunteer Abdelaziz while delivering the training to the members of Al Khayr Co-op.

Photo Credit: HAF/ F2F

The first part of the training was purely theoretical. The members of the Al Khayr Cooperative learned the proper method to cultivate the seeds, the exact planting periods, the different types of quinoa plants, and the harvesting methods. The second day was devoted to products that can be made of quinoa, and it was in this session that the cooperative members learned that not only edible products can be made out of quinoa, but also cosmetic ones. On the third day of the training, the Volunteer provided practical training to the participants. Cleaning the quinoa properly is an essential part of the process, as scrubbing the quinoa seed removes the bitter saponinsthat coat the seeds.

It is important to note that quinoa employs saponins as a defense mechanism against birds and insects, rendering the seeds unattractive for consumption. When consumed by larger animals, the saponins safeguard the seeds during their journey through the animal's digestive system, effectively utilizing the animal as a means of dispersing the seeds across a wide area when they are expelled from the animal's waste. Since these cooperative members do not have a machine that will remove the quinoa coat, the Volunteer suggested a traditional method where they could use a scrub cloth and rub very hard until the coat is separated from the seed. The second step to remove the saponins is to rinse the seeds very well until the foam disappears. After washing the seeds, it is recommended to use that water in sanitizing planting surfaces to kill or to keep any unwanted insects away. The seeds are now ready to be dried and then either used or packaged.

The following day was devoted to the different ways of cooking the quinoa, and how to use different flavors to get simple, sweet, or salty tastes. The attendees of the workshop were divided into three groups, each group decided to go for a specific taste to cook. The first group tried cooking the quinoa in a basic way, without adding any additional ingredients. Whereas the second group decided to add sweet spices such as cinnamon, anise, and clove. At the same time, the third group went for the salty experiment on the quinoa and added ginger, turmeric, and celery.

The additional spices control the period of the cooking process, for example, the quinoa cooked with the sweet spices took longer than the other ones, and the simple basic quinoa was the first to be cooked as it didn’t have any additional ingredients. The secret to a well-cooked quinoa is sautéing it for about 5 minutes before adding the boiled water and the additional ingredients.

All workshops were conducted for the female members of the Alkhayr Cooperative, and on the next day, other farmers (mainly men) from the same village were invited for a sum-up session that mentioned almost everything about the training. The farmers had heard about quinoa prior to the training, but hadn’t known the specific information on quinoa cultivation practices.

In summary, the quinoa production training program has been a resounding success, equipping participants with practical skills and knowledge for effective cultivation. The program facilitated hands-on experience, fostering a deeper understanding of quinoa production challenges. Participants reported increased productivity, improved crop quality, and enhanced market acceptance. To ensure long-term success, ongoing support and knowledge exchange are crucial. Overall, the training program contributes to sustainable quinoa development, benefiting communities, economies, and global food systems.

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