by Gaëlle Bigler (FRACP / URGENCI) & Jean Rossiaud (Monnaie Léman / APRES-GE)
In the last issue of the RIPESS-Europe Newsletter, we proposed to open a regular section / blog on the issue of “local currencies”, to explain the advantages and challenges of this tool in the service of the social and solidarity economy and the issues that arise both locally and internationally in its development. We also took the risk of longer articles, allowing us to discuss more in depth this new and complex issue. The first article focused on the example of the Leman, the currency of the Franco-Swiss living area around Lake Geneva, its guarantee fund and its mutual credit system, its notes and blockchain.
The idea is to build on our grassroot experience, to imagine how to build, both transnationally and in other ever-changing local geographical contexts, synergies between SSE sectors and local currencies: the local currency can serve as an instrument both for building economic sectors (agriculture, IT, construction, etc.) and for promoting exchanges between SSE sectors, and between them and public authorities.
In this issue, Gaëlle Bigler and Jean Rossiaud co-authored this second article laying the foundations for a reflection on the relevance of the use of complementary currencies in the development of agro-ecological agriculture, starting from their own land, French-speaking Switzerland.
As presented in the previous article, like many other local currencies, the Leman was created to respond locally to two contemporary global systemic crises: the financial crisis and the climate crisis. The purpose of citizen money is to give a real territorial identity to the so-called transition economy, a post-extractivist (post-carbon, post-nuclear) and post-speculative economy. It offers an immediate and concrete solution to relocate production and consumption and direct them towards greater sustainability. It promotes the development of a dense network of companies, businesses, consumers and public authorities that share these principles, ethics and ideas of citizenship and commitment. As a Eusko spokesman said: when you take your Eusko note out to pay, it is the “transition identity card” that you display. Consuming healthy food as close as possible to home, from known sources, which we may have contributed to producing or distributing, is an action that benefits from being integrated and articulated in a broader economic and financial perspective.
Since 2008, the Fédération Romande des ACP (FRACP) has brought together some thirty initiatives from all over French-speaking Switzerland. Originally “ACP” refers to Local Contractual Agriculture, and by extension, ACP is used for any initiative, association or cooperative that enters into a partnership approach between a group of citizens and local producers for a social, economic and solidarity commitment. This reciprocal commitment allows you to receive, generally every week, the products for which you have signed a contract. It is a system of short circuit sales, without intermediaries between producer and eater.
FRACP’s missions are to bring together, i. e. to strengthen links between ACP; to accompany, i. e. to share knowledge; to support new ACP and those in difficulty; and to promote, i. e. to raise awareness and defend the ACP model among the public as well as public authorities.
For several years now, FRACP has been an active member of the international network Urgenci for citizen-supported agriculture. Indeed, the models developed in Switzerland correspond to the definition developed jointly by the members of some twenty countries: Citizen-supported agriculture (CSA) is a partnership based on direct human relations between consumers and one or more producers, where the risks, responsibilities and benefits of agricultural work are shared as part of a long-term mutual commitment.
The Urgenci network itself is very active in the movement for food sovereignty and in the promotion of local and solidarity partnerships, particularly within the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social and Solidarity Economy.
This commitment to the development of local, ecological, social, solidarity-based and human-scale agriculture to ensure food sovereignty has led FRACP to participate in various events at the local level, such as the day of reflection coordinated by the Feeding the City of Geneva programme, the campaign to add an article on food sovereignty to the Swiss constitution; and at the international level: participation in the drafting of a book on local and solidarity-based agricultural partnerships, as well as the co-writing of the European Declaration on Agriculture supported by citizens, etc.
Among the various work themes, both at local and international level, is the question of the development of sectors. How to integrate bakers, butchers and other artisans working upstream or downstream of agricultural production into the ACP? How can we better integrate eaters, decision-makers and people involved in the food processing into our approach, which means asking ourselves how to strengthen a social and solidarity-based economy in our territory. And this is where the local currency should be considered as a simple and effective tool to answer these questions.
The local currency offers solutions that address ACP concerns:
- as eaters, we are also citizens and economic actors who have a strong interest in strengthening the coherence of our approach
- Producers, people involved in the food processing and grocery retailers also have a strong interest in demonstrating their commitment to the agricultural and solidarity transition by accepting local currency. Signing the membership charter allows them to appear on a georeferenced map and thus increase their visibility in the face of a growing audience of responsible consumers.
- It is in the interest of public authorities to keep agricultural enterpises, artesans or small processing enterprises on their territory, which contribute to social life and collect local taxes.
From a financial point of view, the local currency multiplies your ability to act on the system you are trying to promote and creates more wealth:
- When you change 100 euros into local currency, your 100 euros will add to the guarantee fund, which is made available for investments in the transition economy. In fact, you have saved 100 euros for projects of collective interest and you have received enough to consume 100 euros in local products, often of much better quality than industrial products.
- The circulation speed of a local currency is estimated to be 5 to 6 times faster than the circulation speed of a currency; that is, it produces 5 to 6 times more wealth in the real economy.
Secondly, the local currency reduces your involuntary or sometimes unconscious participation in the global economic system that you often find harmful: it is impossible to speculate with euskos, Bristol Pounds or lémans on the financial markets of New York or Hong Kong, while with your money in your bank account, this is what is constantly done. Your banker then takes more risk with your money and contributes, through the constant search for financial return, to the overproduction and overconsumption of the planet, which destroys the planet as much as societies. Everything you seek to thwart by eating local and healthy food.
Moreover, the local currency, because it cannot be exchanged into a foreign currency without costs, requires the search for suppliers and therefore the integration of the production to consumption chains. And that is what is most important. By stimulating the construction of a dense network of local companies, terrirories become very resilient to systemic crises such as the 1929 or 2008 crises. These financial crises do not become economic crises mainly because they dry up credit. Without liquidity, there is no longer any possibility of paying suppliers, no possibility of producing for its customers, and no possibility of meeting a demand that is nevertheless solvent, and serial bankruptcies of entire sectors of the economy. One only has to study the Argentine or Greek crises to be convinced of this.
The local currency when it functions like the Leman in pooled credit allows each company to have permanent credit lines automatically opened in the event of a liquidity crisis. In addition, in the event of excess stock, the same network can be activated for destocking.
That is why local currency is an excellent tool to strengthen mechanical solidarity in the production to consumption chains, from seed to bread,, from barley to pint in our favourite pub
SSE is still too often compartmentalized. Everyone cultivates his/her own garden and collects his/her best practices in well sealed silos. Yet the economy, by definition, is a system. And not every system is good, because it is a system. It is up to us to build an ecological, social and solidarity-based system that allows us to produce more and more healthy products as close as possible to home.
It is in this spirit that the Leman and the FRACP are starting a reflection on collaborations and synergies to be developed between local currencies and sustainable food. Here are the first themes we have identified:
- reflection in terms of production to consumption chains, for each type of agricultural product: from seed to production, from production to processing, from processing to distribution, from distribution to consumption,
- reflection within the framework of the “Eating Cities” Programme: starting from neighbourhood territories and municipalities to build short circuits and be part of the transition,
- reflection to be carried out on the involvement of local authorities both as economic actors in short circuits; and as public authorities, in the context of public policies in the fields of agriculture, economic promotion, food and health (canteens), sustainable development and taxation.
- role of the multi-currency purse, Biletujo (purse in Esperanto), for the import of products produced in other territories, or the export of products typically produced here.
- reflection on the importance of networking and anchoring this reflection in the institutional framework of the SSE, and at the international level with RIPESS, but also beyond, by addressing economic actors who do not recognize themselves in the SSE, but who nevertheless share its philosophy by working on the agricultural, energy and economic transition.
We will certainly resume these reflections in a future article. Your comments and questions will guide the contents.