Things That Matter

He Started Selling Nopales To Survive The Pandemic, And Mexicans Helped This Abuelito’s Business Go Viral

Economies around the world are in free fall as the global pandemic forces business to close and workers to stay at home. A portion of the population is fortunate enough to be able to work from the safety of their home, but for many that’s not an option.

Across Latin America, the majority of the population works in the informal economy – running street food stalls, selling electronics on the metro, or cleaning homes. For these workers, a day without work could mean the difference between eating or not.

Street vendors across Mexico are suffering as their customer base is forced to stay indoors amid the pandemic.

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

It’s estimated that about 60% of Mexico’s population works in the informal economy – meaning they’re unregulated and don’t have access to government or employer benefits like paid time off, health insurance, etc. They’re especially at risk when it comes to the economic costs of the global Coronavirus pandemic.

Their predicament is widespread throughout the developing world. Hundreds of millions of workers and self-employed service providers form a vast informal economy, from Mexico to Colombia to Brazil. Most have no access to unemployment insurance or much in the way of savings.

Alfredo is a nopal vendor who has lost most of his business due to the pandemic and struggled to feed his family.

Credit: Productos Riveras / Facebook

In Mexico’s Sonora state, Alfredo Rivera has spent the last 40 years selling nopales and he’s never struggled as much as he is now under the Coronavirus pandemic. His business has all but dried up as his customers are forced to stay indoors for their own safety.

In an interview with El Universal, Rivera says “It’s very difficult to sell because the streets are basically empty. For us, it’s so hard because we live day to day and we don’t have other options. This is why we continue to fight.”

He added: “We have had it hard because people don’t want to go out, let alone have contact with other people. Likewise, since some people in our town aren’t working, they also can’t afford to buy from us.”

Workers are getting creative and turning to technology to help boost their sales.

Credit: Adriana Magallanes / Flickr

The nopal vendor in Sonora, on the advice of his wife, created a Facebook page to help draw in more clients. To his surprise, the Facebook page has helped boost demand and he’s sod out his entire supply of nopales for the rest of April.

And the family is extremely grateful to the community for their support.

They were extremely worried about the economic effects of the pandemic because they have a son with a disability which puts him at increased risk of contracting the virus.

Rivera isn’t the only informal worker worried about the economic ramifications of the pandemic.

Credit: Evaristo Sa / Getty

Across the globe, communities are struggling to make ends meet amid an economic slowdown. Protests have broken out in cities in the United States, India, and Brazil against the quarantine measures many governments have put into place.

Such sentiments could prove combustible across a swath of countries where there already is anger at ruling elites—a possibility not lost on government officials, who have scrambled to put together emergency aid packages.

For such people, “if the alternative is to starve to death, they’re going to want to go back to work,” said Cynthia Arnson, who heads the Latin America Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. “People are going to say, ‘What are my odds of getting Covid-19 and really suffering from it as opposed to not being able to feed my family?’”

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