Recover amaranth as a staple food for the families of the Mixteca of Oaxaca

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Since 2014, the planting of amaranth has intensified in the Mixteca, but it also seeks to encourage its consumption due to its high nutritional value.

Since 2014, the planting of amaranth has intensified in the Mixteca area, in Oaxaca, due to the advantages it offers, but it also seeks to encourage its consumption, due to its high nutritional value, since it contains several vitamins in addition to folic acid, calcium, iron and phosphorus.

Since Minerva Hilario found out that her mother has diabetes, the leaves, flowers, and seeds of amaranth have become the main dishes of her family. Now she together with other women promotes the only network of amaranth producers in the district of Tlaxiaco, in the Mixteca region.

In Agua Zarca, a small community of Santa María Cuquila, located a few kilometers away from the municipality of Tlaxiaco, Minerva Hilario Mejía, tells EL UNIVERSAL about amaranth as a nutritional and staple food for her family.

Surrounded by amaranth grains harvested a few weeks ago, Minerva talks about how laborious the whole process of cultivating amaranth grains is, but that it is somehow necessary for her family.

“The way we eat changed radically, because I have a sick person at home who is my mother. In my family we do not consume sausages, sugars, or ultra-processed products and so we have turned to eating amaranth in all its varieties, in addition to all the food we produce at home,” says Minerva, who has been cultivating amaranth since 2014.

Minerva, like many women and families from indigenous communities, cook from the stems to the leaves of the amaranth and other spices in broth, soup, with eggs, among others, “the amaranth leaves can be added to the dough to make tortillas. There really are infinities of ways to consume it.”

Joselyn Pérez Landero is another of the members of the network, she assures that since she joined the network, she has also changed her diet and that of her family.

“Since I cook rice, you add amaranth to it because they have the same cooking time and it is very rich with the nutrients. Also, when I make rice pudding or other recipes, I always add amaranth to it,” she says.

Although the state of Oaxaca does not stand out as a large-scale producer of amaranth, many of the communities tend to consume the grains in quelites.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (Sader) highlights its nutritional contribution, rich in vitamins A, B, C, B1, B2 and B3, folic acid, calcium, iron and phosphorus.

“Amaranth has great importance for small producers in central and southern Mexico, since it is cultivated on small surfaces, less than one hectare, under traditional agricultural systems such as milpa and chinampas,” the report indicates.

They are looking for consumers

Since the network of women and men began working with amaranth grains in 2014, it has not been easy to get people to consume the grains, due to the lack of information, awareness, and access to food, explains Manuel Villegas Mora from Ojo de Agua, in Tlaxiaco, one of the members of the network.

“The idea is that people can eat better, also teach them how to grow it and harvest it, so that they have healthy food nearby, and they don’t have to buy it”

It was in 2014 that the Network of Producers of Amaranth of the Mixteca was integrated, by the civil association Puente a la Salud Comunitaria, who precisely came to this part of the mixteca, to cultivate amaranth, over time a group of processors emerged, who currently transform the grains into almost 40 presentations.

“The idea was only to obtain seed, then other derivatives have been implemented, such as flour for gruel or breading, sweets and so on.”

For example, Samuel López joined the planting of amaranth in 2014, he assures that before that date he did not know about it, only common grains such as beans and corn.

“We have faced a lack of market, since we started it has been a bit difficult because before there was none, people are barely realizing the nutrients that the grains provide,” admits Manuel Villegas.

Manuel says that, even though many people already consume the different presentations of the grain, the network works on the dissemination of nutrients, the method of cultivation and also on the diversity of the products.

In this context, one of the challenges is to make people aware of healthy eating and food sovereignty, says Dora María Moreno López, representative of the Red de Amaranto Cooperative of the Oaxacan Mixteca.

Dora Moreno López explains that at least 1.5 tons of amaranth are collected each year.

Among the main producers are Puebla with 3,750 tons, Tlaxcala with 1,267 tons, the State of Mexico with 336 tons, Mexico City with 139 tons and Oaxaca with just 123 tons, according to a Sader report published in early 2022.

  Diversity in presentations

“Many people do not like grains just like that, so they are sold in another presentation, to make it somehow more attractive,” says Joselyn Pérez, while showing a variety of amaranth products in the Benito Juárez municipal market, in Tlaxiac.

The network of amaranth producers and processors explains that after the grain has been popped, it can be made in various presentations, for example, in chocoalegrías, natural, wholemeal amaranth toast, cocoa with amaranth, energy bars, wafers, horchata with amaranth for water, granola with piloncillo and dry seeds, among others.

Joselyn currently transforms the beans into energy bars, which contain eight seeds, plus cranberry and coconut. The young woman explains that placing the 40 products on the market has not been easy, she at some point tried to sell cookies, but they didn’t sell, so she had to withdraw them from the market.

“I had to take it out of stock and make something else that would sell well. We are always looking to find out what our customers like, with this we also look somewhat for the health of the consumer”.

Members of the network have also turned amaranth leaves into flour to mix into the dough for tortillas. They explain that every 15 days the seed is burst so that the cereal is fresh: “Amaranth has a life of one month, to stay fresh.”

“The number of people who consume amaranth has been increasing, many are already asking how to cook it and about its benefits. We just want them to consume the products and if they have the opportunity they can cultivate it, to try to be self-sustaining”, recalls Manuel Villegas.

Lack of amaranth producers

Dora Moreno points out that during the two years of pandemic, people began to increase their consumption of amaranth, “although our sales increased, we have to do intense work, so that people return to consuming this product.

Due to this situation, the amaranth network anticipates that more amaranth producers will be needed, because the demand will increase. Currently there are producers in Las Peñas, Agua Zarca, Ojo de Agua, Cañada María, San Pedro Mártir Yucuxaco, San Nicolas, Santa Cruz Tayata and other communities near the municipality of Tlaxiaco.

For example, in Agua Zarca only Minerva grows, because planting amaranth is not easy, “It takes a lot of work, from planting, weeding, and thinning. Already in the harvest, comes the process of cutting, drying, threshing, venting, and popping the grains. It is a very long process, so many people saw that it was not profitable and they were leaving it, ”she says.

Although the cultivation and transformation process of amaranth is convenient, it is not always the best option, since production costs are very high, due to how laborious it is, the members of the network comment.

“Among the problems is the cost of production because they are high, because when they sell it they have to at least recover what they invest. Among other problems is climate change, farmers do not know exactly what the climate will be like during the growing year.”

Source: El Universal