In front of one of the busiest railway stations in the capital of Argentina, there are long lines to buy vegetables, which the producers themselves offer directly to consumers, at prices several times lower than those of the shops.
The scene takes place in Plaza Once, the head of the railway that runs west of Greater Buenos Aires, and is one of the faces of the country's economic crisis, which includes the acceleration of the inflation rate, which has particularly hit prices. of food.
“We had announced that we would start at 10 in the morning, but there had been a line for two hours before,” Guillermo Riquelme, one of the family producers enrolled in the Union of Land Workers (UTT), told IPS who arrived with their products. in three trucks, in a special initiative.
The UTT is an association of about 10,000 farmers from all over the country who work in family businesses and on land of one or two hectares, generally rented. They settled in Plaza Once, in the heart of Buenos Aires, to demonstrate that food can reach the population at prices that are accessible to all.
“We here sell at 10 pesos ($ 0.25) per kilo. And of course we earn the same money, because we are usually obliged to sell to intermediaries at three pesos, "said Roberto Eizaguirre.
Both Riquelme and Eizaguirre produce beets, carrots, lettuce, chard and other vegetables in the surroundings of the city of La Plata, about 60 kilometers from Buenos Aires, where thousands of small farmers are concentrated.
That place was one of those visited by Hilal Elver, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food of the United Nations (UN), who this Friday 21 concluded a 10-day mission to Argentina with a presentation to the media, in the one that made a hard diagnosis of the situation in the matter.
The official also gave the Argentine government preliminary observations on her visit on this day.
Elver, a Turkish lawyer who has held the post since 2014, questioned government policies that "appear intended to further promote export-oriented industrial agriculture, mainly soybeans and corn."
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Turkish lawyer Hilal Elver, in Buenos Aires, before presenting the preliminary report of her mission to Argentina, with questions about the country's agricultural policy. Credit: Daniel Gutman / IPS
In this regard, he criticized "the government's decision to take advantage of the current economic crisis to dismantle support for family farming," by firing about 500 workers from the Ministry of Agroindustry, which was justified by the need to reduce public spending.
The rapporteur also visited the northern province of Chaco, one of the poorest in the country, on the border with Paraguay. There, he was with indigenous people of the Qom people, also known as Toba, who due to poverty left their ancestral lands to move to nearby cities, but were unable to integrate into the labor market.
Elver said that during his visit he was able to verify that there are "a growing number of people who go to soup kitchens (of social assistance) or skip a meal."
In this regard, he pointed out the paradox that the government ensures that the country produces enough food to supply 450 million people in the world, while almost four million citizens face serious food insecurity in the country.
Argentina, the eighth country in the world by surface area and with only 44 million inhabitants, has a temperate plain in the so-called Pampa that is considered one of the most favorable areas on the planet for agricultural production.
Agricultural production has an enormous weight in the Argentine economy and last year the sector's primary and manufactured products represented 65 percent of the country's exports.
The national economy entered a slide this year, fundamentally from April, when a strong devaluation of the local currency began, which has since exceeded 100 percent.
That generated an acceleration of inflation, which the government had projected at 15 percent for this year. But in the first eight months of the year it already accumulated an increase of almost 25% and, in its latest update, the Ministry of Finance estimated that 2018 will end with an accumulated inflation rate of 42%.
But the rise in prices was much more accelerated in food, whose rate of increase was 88 percent in the January-June period, according to a study by the National University of Avellaneda, in the south of Greater Buenos Aires.
“The bag of flour increased from 300 pesos to 1,000 in a few months and we no longer know how to contain prices to the public. We are thinking of closing, ”the manager of a bakery in Villa Crespo, a middle-class neighborhood in Buenos Aires, told IPS in a story that is repeated in many parts of the country.
"The problem is that wheat is taken within Argentina as a commodity (a basic tradable good), whose price rises when the dollar rises, while here people do not earn in dollars," Teté Piñero, of the Permanent Assembly, told IPS. Human Rights (APDH).
“The government should regulate the domestic price of wheat so that this does not happen but it does not. Thus, today the poor are starving and the middle class has serious problems, "he added.
According to the latest official data, announced in March, poverty in Argentina reaches 25.7 percent of the population. But President Mauricio Macri admitted in August that the proportion will grow in the next measurement, due to "the rebound in inflation, which is the biggest generator of poverty."
The UN official also questioned "the adverse effect on environmental resources and biological diversity" of the Argentine agricultural model and in that sense mentioned deforestation, with rates close to 27 million hectares per year, and the strong increase in the use of agrochemicals.
In Argentina there are no statistics on agrochemicals, of intensive use in the cultivation of transgenic soybeans, which cover more than half of the area sown in the country, as well as on crops without genetically modified
Elver described as "miraculous" the countercurrent experience represented by small farmers enrolled in the UTT who in the Greater La Plata area "produce healthy vegetables free of pesticides."
"These production methods should have much more weight in the design of Argentina's agricultural policy," he added.
Javier Scheibengraf, technical coordinator of the UTT, explained to IPS that "we have about 100 hectares, where we work with a self-produced package of herbicides and fertilizers, with manure, ash, soil and other natural products, and without chemical products."
Sheibengraf said that small producers thus see the advantage "of not contaminating themselves and their families with agrochemicals, because practically everyone lives in the same place where they produce."
"It is also the only way to lower costs because the technological package that companies sell us is completely dollarized and becomes unattainable, especially today, due to the devaluation of the Argentine currency and the government's decision to suspend practically all support programs for family farming ”, he added.
By Daniel Gutman
Edition: Estrella Gutiérrez