Chile’s Outdoor Markets: taking precautions and innovating
Santiago, 27 May 2020 (IICA). – Sixty-year-old Carlos Garrido has been a vendor in downtown Santiago for more than five decades. He works in the district that has recorded the most cases of Covid-19 in Chile – the only area where a total quarantine has been imposed for almost two months straight.
Carlos has not stopped selling. He has the same daily ritual: he rises at 5 in the morning to travel to the Lo Valledor market, the largest supply center in Chile, where he proceeds to set up his vegetable stall in the market.
One important change has affected Carlos’ current situation. His brother and partner in the business, 68 year-old Pedro—with whom he was born and raised in these same markets—can no longer work, due to his recent heart operation, and the fact that he is a diabetic, whose age compels him to take care of himself and remain at home.
“He finds it very difficult to stay inside, since the market is his life. We know that the only way that we can continue selling and taking food to the neighborhoods and people of Santiago is to follow the regulations made by the authorities. We have to keep our permit on hand while we are working, information on the registration plate of the truck, masks and gloves, ensuring that we have one empty stall in between each of us and maintaining social distance with clients”, said Carlos, who has had to adjust and to assume sole responsibility of the stall, while observing the health standards amidst strict inspections.
When visiting the markets, one can observe a team of inspectors ensuring compliance with the protocols that have been widely publicized by the Municipality of Santiago, which has emphasized the need to adhere to sanitary regulations and also stressed the strategic importance of maintaining a fresh supply of available products for the neighbors.
Froilán Flores, President of the National Confederation of Outdoor Markets (ASOF)—an association that represents 70% of the vendor organizations in Chile—is a member of the Covid-19 Supply Committee, convened by the President of Chile. The Committee is comprised of the main actors in the distribution chain of food and staple items, which includes outdoor markets, supermarkets and wholesale centers, which continue to supply the population in the usual manner.
Flores remarked that, “Twenty percent of outdoor markets in the country have either been temporarily closed or have to reduce their opening hours or days of operation. We believe that we should not impose restrictions on these traditional centers for trade and business, given that they are essential for a country like ours. Indeed, 70% of fruit and vegetables that is traded, 50% of seafood and 50% of eggs are distributed through this channel”
The members of the Committee are working closely with the authorities to develop a special sanitation plan for the 1,114 outdoor markets and their 340,000 vendors, in a bid to make them safe for trading and to enable the country to open all its markets.
José Ignacio Pinochet, Chile’s Undersecretary for Agriculture, believes that the street markets are the safest place for people to access healthy food produced by the country’s farmers, close to their homes and at price that is affordable for all.
He pointed out that, “The Ministry of Agriculture has been in dialogue with mayors throughout Chile, asking them to facilitate the operation of the markets. We must stress that markets are part of the solution, not the problem. If a market is closed down, it will mean that people will have to travel further away from their homes to environments that will certainly be more densely crowded, which will expose them even more to contracting the disease”.
The Undersecretary explained that he has toured more than 20 outdoor markets in recent weeks and that he is in constant communication with the Regional Ministerial Secretaries (SEREMI) throughout Chile. “We are mindful of the complex situation that our country is experiencing. However, most vendors have been able to weather the pandemic, serving customers with masks and constantly disinfecting their work areas. The support of mayors and the willingness of vendors has been critical in this process”.
Some of the measures that have been already implemented have been the progressive installation of disinfection tunnels and portable toilets, as well as the establishment of partnerships at the community level to undertake home delivery of standard orders, as a way of directly connecting markets to users, thereby reducing congestion.
Forty-seven-year-old Rosa Vergara lives in a bohemian neighborhood in downtown Santiago. Her job entails answering calls at a retail company, and thus she has been able to successfully telecommute, performing her duties from her apartment.
Rosa is one of Carlos Garrido’s clients, purchasing zucchini and cabbage from him, although she not been able to go to the market for six weeks. She welcomed the news that he was accepting telephone orders and has made several orders for fruits and vegetables.
Rosa explained that, “The problem is to make sure that you have a guaranteed supply of fresh vegetables and fruit, as well vegetables to cook healthy meals. Being able to order on the phone is fantastic, since you can buy directly from your regular market and in this way, you can support each other. Shopping at the market is a family affair and our market vendors are people we care about”.
The price of products has remained the same and the quality is excellent. Orders are delivered within no more than two hours, and as Rosa explains, delivery allows her to avoid crowds and to make digital payments, whether through debit and credit cards or electronic transfers.
In Chile, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) is working on an audiovisual series to publicize safety measures for workers in the agrifood chain, including sellers in outdoor markets.
No doubt, Carlos and Rosa will return to their normal lives in the not too distant future, and will be able to greet each other with a smile at the market, resuming an activity as simple as leaving home to sell and to buy.
For now, we must all adapt – vendors and consumers, authorities and citizens. Now is the time to take precautions and to innovate.
Institutional Communication Division