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Glimpses of a new ecology of money

Josh Ryan-Collins, nef
With reform of the financial system moving at a glacial pace, what better place to be for some late winter cheer than the International Conference on Community and Complementary Currencies (ICCC) in Lyon, France, held over a 3 day period last week. 

Here was living proof of communities, NGOs, small businesses and even some governments getting on with the job of reforming our dysfunctional monetary system.  Admittedly the scale remains small but, as some of the academic papers attested, the implications of these money experiments are profound for our understanding of economics and finance.  And with the emergence of a variety of new forms of payment, in particular driven by mobile phone and the internet, the potential for rapid up-scaling of these social currencies is growing. 

With 250 attendees from over 67 countries and 64 academic and practitioner presentations, the tri-lingual (Spanish, French, English) conference was one of the largest of its kind ever to be held.   The number and diversity of global CC systems is astounding and it was particularly sobering to discover how much is happening outside the English-speaking world.  My particular highlights included:

  • the Banco Palmas in Brazil, which distributes micro-credit loans in poor communities in a social currency which is limited to local businesses, a living embodiment of nef’s local multiplier concept.  There are currently over 50 community banks in Brazil operating the system which has received financial and legal support from the left-leaning Brazilian Federal Government.
  • The Talente Tauschring in Austria, which combine LETS, voucher schemes and timebanking models and are increasingly being accepted as tax by local authorities
  • The Uruguayan C3 (Commercial credit Circuit), a new means of payment for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), is guaranteed by the Uruguayan Central Bank and will be accepted as tax by the government and the nationalized utilities.
  • The RES in Belgium, a commercial mutual credit scheme for SMEs that had a turnover of 35 million Euros last year with 5000 businesses and is now expanding to France.

Academic highlights included papers demonstrating the counter-cyclical properties of commercial barter schemes, a project in the emergence of a powerful ‘solidarity economy’ in Latin America driving forward monetary innovations and attempts to classify the many different currency systems worldwide. Most of the 58 academic papers can be downloaded from the conference website.

With many of the CC systems being presented now being integrated in to cooperative banking and micro-finance infrastructures or gaining the support of local and regional governments, it appears that complementary currencies have the potential to move beyond small grassroots experiments. 

Here at nef in the Business and Finance team we are part of this movement, driving forward the development of an ICT mobile phone enabled payments platform for the Transition complementary currencies: Transition Currency 2.0  which I presented at the conference. Watch this space for more.

(21 February, 2011)

Edible Plant Project
The Edible Plant Project (EPP) is a not-for-profit, volunteer-based group working to promote edible landscaping and local food abundance in North Central Florida. The goal of the EPP is to create positive alternatives to the unsustainable food system in this country.

A special focus of EPP is tree crops: fruit and nut trees. These wonders of nature need to be planted only once, and they yield abundantly for decades, often with little or no care. Anyone who has ever stood under a tree loaded with fruit, gorging themselves on the crop, can appreciate the freely given abundance. Right now, there are mulberry, fig, loquat, pear, pecan, and persimmon trees around Gainesville that make heavy crops of delicious fruit and nuts every year. We need more of them! For many of these tree crops, it is a simple matter to start new plants, from cuttings or seed. At the EPP, we maintain a nursery for starting and growing new fruit and nut trees for distribution to the community. Prices are set just high enough to cover our expenses.

Another foundation of local abundance is vegetables. We are working on creating a seed bank of locally-adapted, non-hybrid vegetable varieties so that we can save our own seed from year to year, every year improving the crop by selecting seed from the plants which do the best. By sharing and distributing seed, we are largely independent from the seed companies and their nationally-marketed hybrid varieties that often require chemical fertilizers and pesticides for good production.Beyond spreading the germplasm of plant varieties, we also want to spread information. Recipes and processing techniques can make sure the bounty is well utilized (for example, dehydrated mulberries taste like mulberry-flavored raisins! We maintain a nursery for fruit and nut trees and a keep a seed bank of locally-adapted, non-hybrid vegetable varieties so we can select seed from the plants which do the best. We share our trees, seed, and recipes with the community.

Rather than food produced with massive fossil fuel usage in agriculture and transport, with large scale erosion and fertilizer and pesticide run-off, people could be eating food grown locally in yards and landscapes, with little environmental impact or fossil fuel consumption. Rather than food being a packaged, processed commodity, trucked in and purchased at the store, food would once again be something that connects people with nature, with the seasonal cycles of life.Once people realize how easy it is to grow food, there will be many opportunities for giving and sharing the abundance.

Please help us in our work. Plant fruit trees, and grow and harvest local food to help make Gainesville a more beautiful, sustainable place.
(24 February, 2011)

From Salvaged Tree Trunks Come Very Cool Tables

Alex Davies, TreeHugger
There´s a lot of wood furniture around these days that´s parading as green: the wood always seems to come from sustainable forests, which can be dubious. I´ve written about some recent products that do a lot to evoke nature but aren´t totally clear on how they protect it. But I´m very impressed with the work of Nicole Belanger, the Quebecer behind Nickadoo Tree Trunk Tables, which are exactly what they sound like.

The tables are made from the trunks of trees from a Quebec forest, which have either fallen naturally or have been cut by local lumber companies. The trunks, instead of being discarded, are cleaned (without chemicals), sanded, hand-polished and then spend a few weeks in a kiln to dry. Once the legs (made of wrought-iron or chrome) are attached, the table is ready for your living room…
(24 February, 2011)