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Inflation makes bartering for food grow in Argentina

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Every afternoon from Monday to Saturday, a group of unemployed women lay out their blankets in a plaza by the side of a highway in Buenos Aires. They neatly accommodate everything from clothes and shoes to toys and used kitchen utensils. The purpose is to exchange them for food for themselves and their children.

The barter fair in Villa Fiorito, a poor neighborhood south of the Argentine capital world-famous because soccer star Diego Maradona was born there, has become a means of subsistence for almost a hundred women without a fixed income who have no other way of coping with the increase in the cost of living that has skyrocketed in the last year in Argentina.

The National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INDEC) reported on Thursday that July inflation was 7.4%, the highest monthly rate in more than two decades. While the interannual rate climbed to 71%, which places Argentina as one of the countries with the highest inflation in the world.

Analysts project a price rise of more than 90% by 2022 and it is not ruled out that it reaches three digits if the government of Alberto Fernández is not correct with the measures after the change in the Ministry of Economy.

“I know the problem, I do not disengage; I struggle every day to see how to find a way out of a problem that has been unleashed in the world and it is not just Argentine”expressed the Peronist president during an official act shortly before knowing the official inflation rate.

The rise in prices -particularly in food- is exacerbating poverty, which already affects about 40% of the population, of some 47 million inhabitants.

Soledad Bustos, 31, takes advantage of the fact that two of her children are at school and the youngest is in the care of a sister to settle down at the Villa Fiorito fair every afternoon. She offers used jeans, leather boots, sneakers and shirts that she pulled from her wardrobe or bought on Facebook. In exchange, she asks for boxes of powdered milk that are inaccessible to her.

“I do not make ends meet, the money is not enough”Bustos lamented that left alone in charge of her children. He does not have a job and the social assistance he receives for unemployment of about 36,000 pesos a month (255 dollars) is not enough to cover the cost of the basic food basket, equivalent to about 330 dollars.

“I can’t survive with the (social) plan. In addition to food, I have to buy things for the boys’ school and medicines. Yes or yes I have to come here to take something else”detailed Busts.

These types of informal transactions emerged in Argentina during the economic crisis of the early 2000s, but have reappeared in poor neighborhoods in recent years, in coincidence with an annual inflation that does not drop below two digits.

While their children play the games in the square, the oldest fairgrounds throw their blankets on the sides of the main paths. Although clothing predominates, used toys and appliances are also offered.

“This is living day to day”affirmed María Inés Pereyra, 48 years old and coordinator of the Villa Fiorito fair. “What is obtained today is taken directly to the table to eat”.

For security, only women can participate in bartering. Most of the exchanges are pre-traded by Facebook or WhatsApp.

There is no predetermined value for used merchandise, although Pereyra set a cap equivalent to 300 pesos (two dollars) for each item of clothing.

As an example, the woman pointed to a pair of leather slippers that she exhibits at her stall and asks for. “a sugar, a yerba, oil and a packet of flour”.

The government attributed the acceleration of inflation in July “to a very strong exchange rate run and with speculative movements that tried to generate a crisis of uncertainty and provoke a devaluation”presidential spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti said on Thursday before the official data was released.

In July, President Fernández changed three economy ministers in one month. The distrust of the markets about the course of the Argentine economy pushed the dollar to a historical price above 350 pesos per unit in the informal segment.

Since a stock market governs the purchase of foreign currency, the parallel market is the refuge of savers who seek to preserve their assets and avoid the devaluation of the peso. The gap between the official exchange rate and the parallel exchange rate exceeds 100% and fuels the rise in prices throughout the economy.

According to INDEC, the category of food and non-alcoholic beverages (6%) was the one with the highest incidence in all regions of the country. Milk, eggs, sugar, oil and fruits and vegetables recorded the highest price increases.

“When you play with speculative movements, when you play to generate political uncertainty, when you play to generate uncertainty with the dollar, you are playing with the table of the Argentines”Cerruti pointed out.

Economists and the government itself project a similar inflation for August due to the impact of the rise in public transport tickets and gas and electricity rates, which lagged behind inflation and receive millions of subsidies from the State, which has less and less international reserves.

So far, the new economy minister, Sergio Massa, has not announced concrete measures to control inflation. President Fernández announced on Tuesday that businessmen and unions will be summoned to “align prices and wages for the next 60 days”a recipe that did not work in the past.

Away from the ups and downs of politics, at the Villa Fiorito fair, Bustos and her companions are only concerned about surviving.

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