Quinoa in Peru

Creating Local Quinoa for the Global Marketplace: Geographical Indications and the Politics of Indigeneity in Peru’s Quinoa Bust

Research led by Emma McDonell

In response to surging demand for foods linked to specific locales and new intellectual property frameworks to protect such products, marginalized communities across the world are commercializing their “traditional” foods and seeking Geographic Indication (GI) trademarks to protect them as intellectual property.

While understandings of consumers’ desires for “local” foods and the effects of GI trademarks on producer communities are complex and nuanced, we know little about how producer communities forge linkages between a product, culture, and place, and attempt to develop global reputations for these products.

Emma's dissertation uses an emerging place-based quinoa from the Peruvian highlands, “Quinua Puneño,” as a case study to examine collective action in efforts to commercialize traditional products for global markets and the ways efforts to create place-based foods articulate with identity politics at multiple scales.

Through ethnographic fieldwork in Lima and Puno, Peru, Emma will examine how diverse actors collaborate to materially and symbolically differentiate Quinua Puneño and legitimate claims of greater authenticity and quality.

The research investigates how the effort to tie a product to a cohesive local identity and bounded territory articulates with a highly contested and ambivalent indigenous identity in the Andean highlands, igniting complex identity politics and power asymmetries between indigenous and non-indigenous actors involved in Quinua Puneño’s production.

She examines how actors negotiate the invocation of indigeneity in Quinua Puneño’s branding and highlight how recognition for the region’s quinoa comes to represent a (neoliberal) politics of indigenous recognition.

Broadly, Emma's study develops intersections between literatures on the politics of “local” foods, neoliberal multiculturalism, and the “symbolic commons,” and in doing so, provides a model to guide future studies of efforts to convert cultural difference into economic capital.