While supermarkets abound in Latin America as in other parts of the world, the farmers' market structure accounts for a significant amount of fruit and vegetable trade across South and Central America. In a bid to maintain and grow this culture, organizations from various countries are looking to create the first Latin American Association of Farmers' Markets.
In a recent meeting, Argentine and Chilean fresh market groups met with association 5 Al Dia (5 a Day) in the city of Mendoza to discuss ways to promote fresh produce consumption in the two countries.
Among the discussions, the topic of storage and distribution best practices arose to ensure food safety protection, but the most unique theme was the proposition of an entirely new entity.
Chile's National Association of Farmers' Market Organizations (ASOF A.G) vice-president Froilán Flores, raised the idea of a united Latin American association to promote the traditional trade model, with contact already made with similar organizations in Mexico, Uruguay, Peru, Brazil and Cuba.
"This alliance is very necessary because the big market generates its plans at an international level, and therefore, small businesses and farmers' markets have to work in the near future to have a large organization at the South American level," he says
"Until recently it was said that this trade channel was obsolete, however today it is revitalized because it demonstrated that other modern channels weren't able to supply the population at low cost, with quality, attention, safety and the humanity that farmers' markets deliver.
"In fact, for major disasters in Chile, the only channel that has been able to supply the population has been the farmers' markets - there is no other."
The Chilean model
Flores points to a 2009 study by the Universidad de Santiago de Chile, which showed farmers' markets still led the sale of horticultural products and supplied 70% of the population, while half the population sourced its seafood and eggs from them.
"This demonstrates the important contribution of our sector to a healthy diet, in a country of high levels of obesity and the overweight, which affects nearly nine million people," he says.
Food items represent 60.2% of Chile's open air farmers' markets, while the rest is made up of personal items (28.2%) and household items (11.6%).
"(They) consistute an important parallel market outlet for small-scale agriculture."
In the 1960's, around 70% of retail sales were in the hands of small businesspeople but that percentage has now shrunk to 30%, while the remaining 70% is owned by the five big chains of Walmart, Cencosud, SMU, SDS and Tottus.
Flores hopes the ASOF model can be replicated elsewhere because it helps develop agricultural project policies from the perspective of the small producer.
Argentina's 5 Al Dia president Mariano Winograd, says Chile's farmers' market model is a good example of 'integrated working' and is 'non-confrontational', which hopefully can be emulated by its eastern neighbor across the Andes.
"The Chilean experience with farmers' markets is one of the most important in the Americas. This is due to its level of organization and institutionalization, democratic participation and multi-faceted participation of its members, the notable links it has achieved with the university system, policies, and especially the work developed with the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)," says Winograd.
Winograd hails the farmers' market as an 'historic right' in all American countries, as well as the world, as it represents an historic connection between food and urban populations.
"In Latin America and in Chile in particular, they come from Hispanic times as a way to guarantee food security."
"The system of farmers' markets was hacked in the 80's when the model of concentration, regardless of social policy, mistakenly imagined that the large distribution would solve the urban food supply."
Winograd says the concept should not just be limited to Latin America, but emphasizes it as important for Canada and the U.S. too.