Amaranth is recognized and a culturally appropriate, highly nutritious and adaptable crop. The production and consumption of amaranth presents a unique opportunity to help rural families lift themselves out of poverty through increased access to income generating activities and a healthy food source.
Amaranth is native to Mexico and was cultivated 7,000 years ago as a staple grain of Pre-Colombian indigenous peoples. Ancient Aztecs created statues made from amaranth and honey to represent their gods, later eating these statues in a ritual similar to the Catholic Holy Communion. This cult of "false gods" motivated the Spanish Conquistadors to outlaw the consumption and cultivation of amaranth. At its height, Pre-Colombian peoples grew up to 20,000 tons of amaranth per year, in comparison to the current production of amaranth in Mexico between 3,000 and 5,000 tons.
Amaranth grain is gluten-free and nutritious with extremely high values of the essential amino acid lysine (which sets it apart from other grains). Amaranth grain contains significantly more protein, calcium, iron, fiber, and magnesium than cereals like oats, rice, sorghum, wheat, and rye. The amaranth leaf is also edible, containing high values of calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin C.
Amaranth is a C-4 plant that is drought resistant, meaning it is an excellent option to diversify crops, especially given the unpredictable global weather patterns that have recently impacted farming and livelihoods in Oaxaca.
Additionally, amaranth's market value is such that farmers can earn considerably more growing amaranth than other grain crops; the net-profit of growing amaranth is more than three to five times the net profit of other grain commodity crops.