Lima's Surquillo neighbourhoods rise up with a new recipe for its food system

Lima's Surquillo neighbourhoods rise up with a new recipe for its food system

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The complete renovation of a gastronomic district in Peru is getting people talking. Its aim is to offer more than just delicious and diverse plates, but also a space for dialogue around sustainable and inclusive food policies at local level and in cities.

A tradition based on flavour. Gastronomy on every street corner. Restaurants, huariques - which in the Quechua language refers to places where people "eat well" - and markets. This is what the new brand "Surquillo, Barrio del Sabor" (Surquillo, neighbourhood of flavour) looks like, a proposal of the district of Surquillo in the city of Lima, created in times of pandemic to reactivate the economy of Surquillo and promote access to food for everyone.

The brand's activities will support the economic reactivation of 14 food markets and 618 formally registered restaurants in the District of Surquillo.

"Surquillo, Barrio del Sabor" is part of the Food Action Plan, within the framework of the “Mercados del Bicentenario” (Bicentennial Markets Initiative), whose actions Rikolto has been accompanying together with the National Federation of Market Workers (Fenatm), the Consortium for Health, Environment and Development (Ecosad) and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES Peru).

The action plan is led by the District Municipality of Surquillo and has resulted in the creation of a vision for the district's food system, including its many markets, making it the most emblematic food district in the capital for its location and a diverse gastronomic offering.

Markets and food policies on the eve of the bicentenary

Markets were among the areas hardest hit by the pandemic in Lima. In Peru, the Ministry of Interior reported that more than 360 markets nationwide were intervened in as part of the measures to prevent COVID-19. The media emphasised this situation. Since then, many markets have been stigmatised as centres of contagion, as they are spaces traditionally associated with agglomeration and disorder.

Similarly, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI), in March 2020 the commercial activity of restaurants fell by 21.17%, as businesses such as those in Surquillo were forced to abide by intermittent quarantines and adopt a modality of attention focused on home delivery services.

It is in this context that the “Mercados del Bicentenario” arose, to contribute to the participatory formulation of public food policies in the local space, as part of an effort anchored in the agenda of the Bureau for the Promotion of Healthy Food Environments Policies of the metropolitan municipality.

The proposal includes the different expressions of the food system in the district, such as markets and restaurants, as well as the point of view of the neighbours and self-managed groups such as the common pots. From them (and for them) the initiative starts from a vision for the district's food system with strategic actions to improve the food infrastructure.

"The search for the best conditions for our district in this pandemic led us to face the problem looking for solutions together with social and public institutions and district traders, achieving a model and indeed an example to be followed by other neighbouring districts."

Giancarlo Casassa Mayor of Surquillo district.

The Surquillo Food Action Plan promotes a work agenda with stakeholders in the district. The organisations that accompany the Bicentennial Markets initiative see in this plan the opportunity to vindicate food as a political and cultural activity. This is how Nataly Pinto-Alvaro, director of Rikolto's Sustainable Food Systems programme in Latin America, explains it.

"Markets have traditionally been meeting places where the diversity of our food culture is reflected. In cities like Lima, which concentrates a significant number of markets compared to the national average, they are central to supplying the city with healthy food from the countryside. It is equally important that they are safe, dignified and accessible spaces for all citizens. Instead of gentrifying, they should generate better opportunities for the neighbourhood and the surrounding community."

Nataly Pinto Director of Rikolto´s Food Smart Cities programme in Latin America.

"Taste Neighbourhoods": key neighbourhoods for resilience

Within the framework of the district's Food Action Plan, the brand "Surquillo, Neighbourhood of Flavour" was promoted in a participatory manner. The aim is to promote key neighbourhoods with restaurants and markets as gastronomic destinations for neighbours and visitors.

During the sanitary crisis, the lockdown measures force consumers to look for food alternatives closer to them, a situation that the municipality is taking advantage of to promote the economic reactivation of local businesses.

"It's important to think of food systems at city, district, and “food walkability” scales: think of a 15-block gastronomic neighbourhood or 15-minute walk for people to get to their destination. So if there is a disruptive event, I will walk to the market or bodega. That's why the food plan contemplates stopovers to incorporate key players in the district."

Alain Santandreu Director of Ecosad
For the pilot, 3 neighbourhoods were identified where there were gastronomic neighbourhoods, and key actors articulated and participating in the municipal platform, as well as municipal interest in promoting these areas. (map of the pilot zone)

However, the researcher explains, it is useless to have a gastronomic neighbourhood if in the same district there are people who go hungry (a vulnerable population such as Venezuelan refugees and users of the Community canteen). Therefore, the action plan will also develop the Zero Hunger axis to see how the Bicentennial Markets can improve access to safe and healthy food throughout the district, taking into account that Surquillo is the most densely populated district in Metropolitan Lima.

Restaurants and markets reactivating the local economy

In times of Covid-19, many people have lost their jobs and the local economy needs to be revived. The brand is expected to attract the public, generating economic movement for small businesses in markets and restaurants. This is the expectation of John Zavala, a member of the National Executive Committee of Fenatm:

"There is a situation before and after COVID-19. What used to be our strength - conversing with the vendor, fresh produce, the 'yapita' (the bonus)- was what the public recognised, but now everything has changed. With this initiative we hope for an economic boost in the gastronomic area, and that this will also bring benefits in other areas."

Christian Cuadros, the owner of the Concha Nostra restaurant in Surquillo, explains that by reducing the capacity up to 40% of sales were lost and that deliveries are not sustainable.

"The restaurants that are still in business are now trying to maintain themselves, they are still not recovering from the crisis. A joint initiative with markets, huariques and other restaurants would be a great measure to show a new image of Surquillo and to encourage domestic tourism so that people from other districts come to Surquillo to eat."

In Lima, Rikolto is part of the “Mesa de Promoción de Políticas de Entornos Alimentarios Saludables de la municipalidad metropolitana”, promoted by a multi-stakeholder group since 2020. This space will allow documenting lessons and insights on the district's experience with the Bicentennial Markets that the capital city needs in order to generate resilience and equitable access to food from neighbourhoods and food hubs.

In Latin America and the world, Rikolto is part of initiatives that co-create solutions to feed cities and think about emerging food challenges beyond 2021. The Bicentennial Markets initiative and the dialogue process around the food action plan have allowed us to build a space for dialogue around food policies at the local level. On this basis, gastronomy and food become an opportunity for economic and social inclusion, as well as drivers of development for the city.

Collaboration: Writer: Francesca Raffo | Editing and styling: Natalia Palomino (Rikolto)

Do you want to know more about this project? Contact us:

Nataly Pinto Alvaro
Nataly Pinto Alvaro
Consultora externa | Ecuador

Alain Santandreu
Alain Santandreu
Coordinador del Proyecto Vecindarios Alimentarios Saludables | Perú y Ecuador