Mobile markets: a comprehensive policy to avoid crowding and deconcentrate services during the Covid19 pandemic. The experience of La Paz, Bolivia.

The supply markets in Latin America are considered as high-risk spaces for the transmission of Covid19.

Traditionally, these supply markets have operated under the logic of agglomeration. This same logic of agglomeration has become, in these times, a problem for the municipalities and for the health entities of various countries in the region.

“Moshoqueque” – Chiclayo, Peru – a typical supply market en Latin America

If we consider the measures applied, we can find a generalized tendency which is that of : i) openning hours are restricted, ii) implementing biosecurity measures, and iii) deconcentrating markets through mobile markets or itinerant markets. The third measure is a fairly common practice in many cities in Latin America, through “fairs” or “producer markets”. Supported by this type of experience, many municipalities have implemented these “itinerant markets” as a response to the health emergency of Covid19.

In this perspective, I would like to share with you the experience of the ‘mobile markets’ in the city of La Paz (Bolivia). The city of La Paz was the first city in Latin America to implement this initiative but from a integrated strategy.

To view English subtitles: activate the option in YouToube – photo from: la_paz_emprendedora (instagram)

)The city of La Paz is located at an altitude of more than 3,500 metres and has a population of approximately a million ten thousand inhabitants. Administratively the City is divided into 9 macro districts, where there are subalcaldías that coordinate with 23 districts that make up the city.

The mobile markets were born as a plan of the Autonomous Municipal Government of La Paz, through the Secretary of Economic Development who formed a Multi Institutional Committee called “Committee to feed the city of La Paz”. The Committee established a three-pronged strategy :

  1. The articulation of local producers from the metropolitan area and neighboring municipalities as strategic partners.
  2. Ensuring the supply chain by avoiding displacement, and
  3. Deconcentrate traditional supply markets.

The strategy was operationalized by the Local Economic Development Agency – ADEL, and for this purpose 3 objectives were set. The first is to cater for sectors of the population which are far from traditional supply markets.

In this way, ADEL, in coordination with the sub-municipal governments, defined a series of criteria for establishing where these ‘mobile markets’ would be established. The main criterion was the number of households to be served by the ‘mobile market’. This is how a timetable was created that was socialized among the actors, especially among the producers and disseminated through all possible means. Since the beginning of the ADEL experience, it has served an average of 4 districts per day. According to a first evaluation established on May 8, ADEL was able to attend through 80 mobile markets in 21 districts and benefiting 32,000 families.

The second objective: to generate an “integrative” dynamic of local agricultural producers. Since this initiative was based on a strategy that ADEL had been developing since a long time ago, the contacts of the producers, and above all with their confidence, were expected.

The third objective: to avoid intermediaries and increase the final price of products.

Towards the middle of April, the agricultural producers who were already participating in the mobile market were joined by the industrial/ commercial sector of packaged products: groceries, cleaning products, meat products,… thereby expanding the supply of ‘mobile markets’, and consolidating an economic dynamic which, according to the assessment of 8 May, generated revenues of approximately 1 million Bolivianos (Bs), representing just under 150 thousand American dollars. At the same time, it has generated about 3 temporary jobs, which has made it possible to ensure a certain level of income within the sector and to benefit a large number of families through a consequent saving.

The food markets and supermarkets have continued to work in a normal way, obviously following the recommendations of opening hours that the government has defined to avoid displacement. In the city of La Paz in normal times, there are 83 food markets and 3 supermarket chains with 15 stores.

If we consider from the beginning of the activity, until the evaluation of 8 May, approximately one month, the municipality of La Paz managed to double the offer of supply markets, thus generating an economic value, managing to maintain the supply chain, controlling the movement of people and thus avoiding contagion.

About 200 municipal officials were mobilized for this activity, carrying out tasks of disinfecting spaces before and after the implementation of mobile markets, controlling the weight, prices and speculation, and also by monitoring compliance with biosecurity measures.

Muncipal officals installing a handwashing system for mobile markets, photo from: la_paz_emprendedora (instagram)

It is important to add the experience of the private public partnership through which the Bolivian National Brewery facilitated the logistics of transportation of the producers and their products from the production centers to the places where they were to be implemented ‘mobile markets’ in each district.

The overall results of this experience will have a direct relationship with the evolution of the pandemic in Bolivia and with the way the next phases are taking place, especially the phase of deconfinement. But what is clear to the city’s Secretary for Economic Development, Mr. Sergio Siles, is that this initiative has a correlate with the municipal strategy of “urban centralities” and the provision of new services that will be demanded by the population. In this regard, a Certification System is being implemented to guarantee a standard of quality, fair price, order and security.

The main value that I want to highlight from this experience is the ability to implement a response, an integrated strategy but above all implementing a system of evaluation that has made it possible to measure producers’ expectations but also the user’s experience and to introduce certain improvements in order to blend the offer to the user public.

While the mobile market strategy is a short-term strategy, It is important to note that local authorities and decision-makers have identified the transformative potential of such initiatives to make them more permanent responses with their impact on social value and urban resilience.

For example in Peru there is a proposal that goes in this direction that is oriented by the Peruvian College of Architects and the UCAL University that propose to establish linear market modules in the streets.

If you know of any other similar experiences in the form or the potential for inspiration for responses in other different contexts, I would appreciate it very much if you could contact me through the comments’ section or through e-mail adress; luisbuezo@hotmail.com in order to document that experience and be able to spread it on this blog.

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