To a great degree, the well-being of food producers in Latin America is a function of access to urban markets. For example, producers of brown sugar cones west of Ciudad Valles, Mexico, who are able to transport their product to urban markets of the region can receive approximately US$0.48 per kilogram from wholesalers. By contrast, nearby indigenous producers who lack access to urban markets end up selling their cones to itinerant buyers for US$0.08 per kilogram. In the latter scenario, a farmer is likely to earn between US$10 and US$15 for a week’s work and is cut off from any market knowledge. In both cases, the final product will ultimately be sold in the same condition it left the farm at approximately US$0.85 per kilogram in a metropolitan supermarket.

Throughout Latin America there are millions of farmers who have traditionally lacked the sophistication and resources to gain market access. Not only are they locked into a vicious cycle of poverty, but they lack the knowledge to control quality and stay abreast of market trends. In order to come to grips with this multi-faceted problem, El Salvador is creating multi-function markets where farmers can directly sell their produce at a fair profit and become better informed at the same time.

The market which opened on 18 November in San Martin, El Salvador, serves as an example of this concept. The project was undertaken by the Salvadoran ministry of agriculture with support from the government of Japan. Farmers who use the market not only gain access to a stall from which they can sell their products, but are able to obtain information from agricultural experts located at the market.

The goal of the project is not only to improve the earnings of farmers, but make them aware of technological advances and market trends. Given the fact that most farmers cannot tend their crops and be present at the market on the same day, the market primarily functions on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On those days farmers sell their fresh produce either at retail or wholesale prices depending on the volume sold.

At the inauguration of the facility, Salvadoran agriculture minister Urrutia Loucel stated that the market will not only supply space for selling produce, but will become a true agribusiness centre. Several agricultural services will be available at the market. For example, the Agricultural Development Bank (BFA, Spanish acronym) will have a presence there.

Bank officials see their new location as very attractive because it gives them direct access to the population they are mandated to serve: small farmers, micro businesses, and agricultural cooperatives. In an effort to overcome chronic problems with default, the bank will also provide farmers and small business owners with technical assistance on how to manage their assets.

Another innovative feature at the new facility is a market information centre. By means of this office, the region’s growers can learn about market trends at local, national, and international levels. The ultimate goal of this ministry of agriculture office is to achieve a better balance between supply and demand. Before the market was opened, it was difficult to disseminate market information in the region because there was no regular gathering place for producers.

Consumers should ultimately benefit from the new market concept as well. As the number of intermediaries in the food supply chain declines, they should gain access to fresher produce at a more reasonable price. Multi-function markets like the one at San Martin create a win-win situation which can ultimately help to narrow the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” of global food production.

The following is a list of the main features at the San Martin market.


35,000 square meters of market space planned

18,000 square meters completed as of 1 November

Refrigerated storage


Water treatment plant

Agricultural bank

Market information centre



By Steve Lewis, correspondent based in Latin America and the US