“We don’t keep loyalty scores. We’ve got identity!”

Taking a stroll, meeting people, shopping, tasting regional specialities: every two weeks the farmers from the Colombian highlands travel to Bucaramanga and bring fresh produce from the country to the cities. This creates trust.

A variety of vegetables, aromatic herbs, freshly squeezed juices, natural cosmetics and countless baskets with all shapes and colours of fruits cause the tables of the simple market stalls to bow in the middle. The market in La Joya, a city district in Bucaramanga in north-eastern Colombia, is a feast for the eyes – and much more than just an alternative for impersonal supermarket shopping. The market emerged from a SWISSAID-supported project to promote rural development and interaction among the rural and urban population in the province of Soto to give women and young people in particular better prospects for the future. The main aims of all these efforts are to give the farmers some respite from their tough life and to protect the environment. The slogan is food security for families.

The way to the heart is through the stomach

Before the first packed market truck could begin its journey over the gravel road down into the valley, the farmers had to learn how to increase the revenue from their fields. The courses in ecological agriculture, which the partner organisation of SWISSAID set up, were a success: thanks to their eco strategies, the farmers managed to boost the harvest so enough was left over from the main harvest for their own consumption as well as to sell any surplus at market.

Work first, then leisure

None of this was possible from one day to the next: three years of hard work were required before the market in its current form could become established in the city. SWISSAID’s support was fundamental during this time. By improving the farmers’ seeds, more robust seedlings were grown and plant diversity was enhanced. The local SWISSAID partner organisations additionally focused on small family businesses producing home-brewed maize beer, cakes or other homemade products. The micro-entrepreneurs professionalised the production process by taking small measures to make their companies fit for the market in the city. The main focus was also placed on advertising and presenting the produce – ultimately, food has to look delicious!

«It’s a fantastic thing»

Every second Sunday, the farmers now fill their baskets and bags and set off early for Bucaramanga. “It’s a fantastic thing”, says farmer Martha Isabel Arciniegas from the municipality of Floridablance. “We get to know the people and have direct contact with customers from the city.” Farmer Isolina Niño from Lebrija is also enthusiastic. “This way our customers get to see where their food comes from and that they are good quality products without chemicals. We can sell here without middlemen. That means our customers support our work directly.”

The enthusiasm about the farmer’s market is mutual. “The products here are very good, and besides they’re cheaper than in the shop. For instance, manioc. And you can try everything”, says Miryam Mantilla, a resident and customer from La Joya. Many customers come to the market regularly, so real relationships have already been formed. “For example, there’s a couple who bring us breakfast every fortnight. Or the man who always drinks his maize beer with us”, explains saleswoman, Rosa Isabel Rincón.

That certain something

The market promotes awareness about food provenance and bridges the gap between city and country. Or in the words of Yeimi Katherine, a young city dweller, “At the market we can see the full variety of everything that grows in our countryside. This is how we stay connected with the traditions of our ancestors.”

Anyone who buys food at the farmer’s market therefore puts a sizeable portion of ‘identity’ in his or her shopping basket along with the freshest mangos and vegetables. Value for money is not the only thing that matters, “We don’t keep loyalty scores, we just have that certain something for a good life. There are no brands, but identity instead”, says market truck driver Claudia Gimena Roa.

Bad days at the market aren’t affordable

Financially the market continues to be a balancing act: a farmer’s family earns an average of 45 to 170 Swiss francs for every day at market. The main difficulty is high costs of transporting the produce to the city. “Most farmers don’t have their own transport. Since the roads are in extremely bad condition, the average transport costs at 1.80 Swiss francs per basket are very expensive”, explains co-organiser Fernando Salazar Ferreira. This creates pressure, “The farmers depend on the market attracting plenty of people. They really can’t afford bad days at the market.”