A traditional plant with very similar uses to cereals is improving the nutrition of the poorest families, thanks to a project by the Argentine Agrarian Federation that is yielding better than expected results.
The solution, which is aimed at improving children's diet and therefore their health, involves reviving this ancient agricultural product with the support of local authorities and families living in the area. Amaranth has nutritional benefits that are seldom appreciated: it is rich in protein and has a high content of calcium and phosphorus. Since it is also gluten-free, it is an ideal dietary component for coeliac sufferers and diabetics.
The project involves the cultivation of six different variants of amaranth to obtain leaves and seeds that are highly appreciated in home cooking. The area's entire population is involved in developing this rediscovered crop, not least school children, who can have fun growing and cooking the seeds that derive from it. The project involves a total of 1800 families, 12 schools and a farmers' cooperative that manages a new processing factory for converting the crop into bars, pasta and bread.
Added to this is an outreach programme (in a permanent training and research centre) that educates people about the nutritional value of the plant, as well as a programme to develop new uses of Kiwicha.
This educational component earned the initiative first prize for best school project. It also spawned a documentary funded by the country's Ministry of Education.
The success of this initiative has gone far beyond the intervention zones, reaching up to 40,000 beneficiaries who now use amaranth on a daily basis in their own cooking. Five years since the project was launched, the product has become an integral dietary component throughout Salta province, to the extent that the government has issued a decree defining the Kiwicha project a "national priority".
The fact that amaranth can adapt to different types of terrain and climate makes the initiative replicable in other countries with different weather conditions to those of Salta province.
Furthermore, the spread of this new agricultural crop has reduced environmental impact compared with tobacco and sugar cane plantations, which are highly polluting due to their use of pesticides and the production of waste that contaminates water sources.