Food Markets in Peru

Visiting the food markets of France stimulated memories of fruit and vegetable markets in Peru and even of farmers’ markets in New Zealand.

We visited Peru with Tahuri Whenua in 2009, comparing and Maori Potatoes (taewa) and some of the 3000 identified Andean varieties, and the culture that surrounds them. That is another story.

In 2009, about half the fruit and vegetables to feed the Lima population went through the old market. The rest of the produce was distributed via supermarket chains.

Nobody is really sure how many people live in Peru’s capital city, Lima. It is officially about 8 million, but there are a few million extras that don’t officially exist.

The traditional vegetable market’s total area was about three hectares, but most activity was concentrated in a densely filled one hectare centre that was servicing 4 million people!

Much of the produce came from the headwaters of the Amazon jungle, past Machu Picchu in the Andes.  The train track down-stream of Machu Picchu had been washed away so everything was going by road, a couple of days by truck.

Inside the market, transport was manual, with huge sacks on shoulders or barrows. The produce was piled high, and its vendors showed considerable pride through their care with display. There were certainly no flash cabinets and definitely no refrigeration, though plenty of workers climbing over piled sacks of produce.

It was difficult to fully understand how everything worked. The language barrier was significant, and we were shepherded carefully by government staff. But the scale ranged from a person with a very small pile of corn to huge stacks of bagged produce with people running everywhere. Maybe some were farmers come to town, others traders. Some buyers looked to be doing a family shop so there was some retail. But clearly the bulk must go out as wholesale.

Down the road a “proper retail” market had stores, display units and altogether a different role. Our hosts explained how government advisors were training the people in food handling, marketing and presentation to maximise sale value. The appearance of this market was much closer to the French markets visited in 2012.

While in Lima, we also visited the site of the new wholesale fruit and vegetable market being developed at a much larger site. Now in operation, it has cool store capacity, power and space for mechanical transport. It has good transport links to the port, the rail network and the main roads into Lima. It also integrates health and social services that seemed highly needed by the people that worked the old vegetable market.  But it was a long way from their homes . . .  Progress versus traditional practice always has pros and cons.

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