CAMPECHE Campeche, Mexico – At a time when businesses and communities are reeling from economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic, some are turning to one of the oldest forms of commerce to keep community trade going. The idea of bartering, or trueque, might call to mind images of the ancient markets in which it originated, but far from being a step back in time, this age-old method of community trade is actually a progressive, grassroots response to mainstream money problems.
In Campeche, the Green Market, or Mercado Verde, has just done exactly this. Where cashflow has become limited, members of the sustainable community built around the Mercado Verde will be able to exchange supplies and services to make goods accessible.
The culture of exchange already exists in a variety of forms across the world, such as the swap fairs and eco-fairs in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the large-scale Mercado de Trueque in Mexico City. However, bartering networks are place specific, with their roots in the local community, so must exist within the customs and needs of pre-existing local networks. For Campeche, this means connecting the businesses of the already thriving Mercado Verde with other businesses and individuals in the city, allowing them to continue to benefit whilst the market itself is closed for the duration of the lockdown.
In addition to the obvious financial benefits, bringing back bartering in a time of crisis has several positive side effects. In a community context, bartering can pull people together, allowing them to help one another in a way that is human – rather than profit – focused. Every member of a community has something to offer, and bartering can generate spaces in which each individual’s talents can become part of a network of mutual support. On a practical level, bartering in times of economic crisis helps to stabilise a community under economic pressure. By decentralising social and economic organisation, communities can foster local self-reliance in order to protect local environments and economies from the negative effects of globalisation, and, as we are discovering, global crises.
There are also a number of positive environmental effects to trading goods and services without customary capital. At the Mercado Verde in Campeche, all goods are sourced and produced sustainably by residents, which, combined with bartering, helps to create a culture of responsible consumption. Bartering also fosters sustainable patterns of exchange by supporting localised supply chains, which, in turn, may contribute to a decrease in transport-related emissions. And, by connecting neighbours with each other and with local businesses, there is also a reduction in waste, as surplus food and products can be shared, rather than thrown away.
“We knew we had to respond to the situation in some way,” says Laura Pacheco Haw, spokesperson for the Mercado Verde, “but in a way which was coherent, allowed for people to access products, and could take place in a context in which there is very little active capital and everything is frozen. Ultimately everyone has a skill or ability or produces something, so offering a barter system was the logical positive step. Plus, of course, we are a community, and a community doesn’t need money as an intermediary – if anything, the absence of money strengthens our bonds.”
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to be far reaching and, in many ways, unpredictable. Economically, however, a worldwide downturn following months of global lockdown is almost certain, and many will find themselves in need of support from their communities, as Pacheco Haw says. Though there is no one-size-fits-all solution, it is possible that trueque might be a way for people to come together and cope, throughout the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
To find out more or participate, go to https://www.facebook.com/MercadoVerdeCampeche/
For The Yucatan Times
Shannon Collins is a freelance writer, contributing to a variety of publications. As well as working with environmental organisations, she is pursuing a MA in English Linguistics at University College London.
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