Why is Amaranth important to World Hunger?

Why Amaranth?

Suppose you show up in a hungry region of the world, with one metric tonne of wheat seed to feed 5 million persons. That’s not enough wheat. You need about a billion kilograms (a million metric tonnes) of any staple grain to feed 5 million persons for one year, including some portion of the harvest to save for planting future crops.

So you plant the one metric tonne of wheat seed. The harvest is 30 times that amount, 30 metric tonnes (MT). Still not enough wheat. You plant again, and the harvest is 900 MT. Not enough for 5 million persons. Plant a third time, and the harvest is 27,000 MT. That’s enough to feed 147,500 persons for a year (500 g/day). Plant a fourth time, and you have 810,000 MT, which can feed about 4 million persons for a year, or 5 million if you ration the grain.

Now suppose you show up in a hungry region of the world, with one kilogram of amaranth seed to feed 5 million persons — not one metric tonne (1000 kg), but only a single kilogram. Plant and harvest, you have 1 metric tonne. The ratio of seed planted to grain harvested for amaranth is at least 1000:1, and for a good harvest, as much as 2000:1. The same type of ratio for wheat is only 30:1.

Plant and harvest a second time, and now you have 1,000 MT. That’s more than the second harvest for wheat, even though the wheat plantings began with one MT and the amaranth plantings only began with one kilogram. At the third harvest of amaranth, you have one million MT of grain, enough to feed 5 million persons for one year (200 kg per person per year). At the fourth harvest of wheat, you can’t feed 5 million persons unless you ration the grain.

Amaranth is a complete protein, with all essential amino acids in excellent percentages, including lysine at 5.1% of the protein. And the total amount of protein is 13.5%.

Wheat is not a complete protein; it is lacking in lysine at only 54% of the Institute of Medicine’s recommended proportions. White wheat flour, all-purpose, is about 10.3% protein. Whole-wheat flour is 13.7% protein. Amaranth is a better source of protein.

Amaranth has 468% as much calcium as wheat; 211% as much iron; 181% as much magnesium; 156% as much phosphorus; 140% as much potassium; 110% as much zinc. So amaranth is a much better source of electrolytes, iron, and zinc. Add table salt, and amaranth is a complete source of electrolytes; wheat is not.

Sharing Seed

Suppose a farmer in a hungry region is planting and harvesting wheat. He or she needs to save 1/30th of the harvest to plant for the next crop. If he shares his harvest with 29 other farmers, he has nothing left but the seed for replanting the crop.

Now suppose the farmer is planting amaranth. He only needs to save 1/1000th of the harvest for the next crop. He can give (or sell) seed to 99 other farmers so that they can plant a crop of the same size, and still have 90% of his harvest left over. The crop can quickly spread among farmers feeding more and more persons every crop cycle.

That’s why amaranth.


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