Local development as a strategic alternative in Fife

Once again many will question the dependence on a global market economy as headlines shout, “China’s ‘Black Monday’ sends markets reeling”. For months, in a range of publications, Mohamed El-Erian, who chairs President Obama’s Global Development Council, has been forecasting the risk of a ‘perfect storm’, adding that considering ‘its destructive potential, it warrants serious attention by policymakers’, though China does not loom large in his list of contributing factors.

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Mike Small (with family, above) is said to be ‘behind’ the Fife Diet local eating experiment, which aims to relocalise food production and distribution on a regional basis, as a response to globalisation and climate change. See a 2008 Telegraph article and more in depth on the Transition Culture website.

Remarkably, it is funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund and has also received funding from Celebrating Fife, the Co-op Community Fund and Awards for All.

Over an eight year period the Fife Diet has developed from a simple idea framed around ‘local eating’ to a complex one about sustainable food, environmental justice, globalisation and culture. They set out to build a sustainable food movement that popularised eating healthy, local produce in Fife, starting from the understanding that there is something fundamentally wrong with the food system but also from the thought that they could, by acting collectively, do something about it.

They now believe that food has become central to the precarious economy. Real progress won’t be made until control is regained over the retail experience, and profiteers that benefit from products that fuel obesity are confronted.

In the Food Manifesto they are developing, they call for opportunities for the ‘right to grow’ and an expectation of quality healthy food in our public institutions, aiming eventually to become – as the Scottish government puts it, a ‘Good Food Nation’.

FAQ: “But what fruit do you eat?” Fife’s Pittormie fruit farm produce:

fife's pittormirefruitboxjuly091

Remarkable achievements listed on their site:

CELEBRATING OUR OWN FOOD CULTURE

When we started we were met by a mixture of incredulity and poorly-disguised scepticism. People really didn’t think that you could eat food from Fife, and survive at all. It was just unthinkable, unimaginable.

CARBON SAVINGS

In 2011-2012 we saved 1019 tonnes of C02e. Then, in a three year period (April 2012- March 2015) we saved a further 6976.37 tonnes of C02e. These are immediate savings, by diverting food waste from landfill thereby avoiding creating methane, for example, or by sequestering carbon and enriching soil with compost, but also by eating locally, growing our own food, eating organic, changing the meat we ate (and eating less of it).

OUTREACH

We held or attended over 500 outreach events over the three years, engaging with 15,520 people.

GROWING SPACES

We established a community food growing garden, a wildlife and forest garden and a vibrant volunteer and community group who are maintaining them. We hosted 57 events at the garden, including the children’s gardening club, large community lunches and volunteer sessions.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

We ran 79 weekly children’s gardening clubs (79 clubs over three years) and hosted 7 large-scale community events.

LEADING THE WAY

We were part of building a new food movement in Scotland that encompasses the right to food, championing small producers, insisting on sustainability as a measurement of quality in food production and celebrating food sovereignty.

NEW ORCHARDS

We planted 7 orchards around Scotland from Galloway to Sutherland with our Silver Bough tour (‘ a cultural conversation about apples’).

SCHOOL LUNCHES PILOT

We collaborated with Fife Council and the Soil Association in a pilot project exploring regionally sourced, healthy, sustainable and organic school lunches. See here.

INSPIRATIONAL PRINTED MATERIAL

We published a series of inspiring posters, postcards, booklets and other materials including recipe books, calendars, guides on native apple varieties and a booklet on gardening with kids. We also produced a free Ebook for our members of Collected Recipes from the life of the project.

BIRTHING THE ORCHARD COLLECTIVE

We curated and hosted the National Orchard gathering and helping the Orchard Collective into existence.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

We are proud to have been part of a wider movement and welcomed the collaborative work over the past eight years with such groups as Nourish, the Soil Association, Slow Food, Permaculture Scotland and Transition Towns.

Much more here: http://fifediet.co.uk/fife-diet-chronology/

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End note: protect and rediversify local economies

pp hines logoAs LWM’s co-founder, Colin Hines, has written, there is growing opposition to a system which regards as inevitable the driving down of tax rates for higher income earners, worsens social and environmental conditions and kills local jobs and small business opportunities:

“Whistling in the dark to keep up the nation’s economic spirits by promising export-led growth in an era of rising Asian dominance is a ridiculous policy. The alternative to these dangerous and damaging dark alleys is to propose a set of practical measures for protecting and rediversifyng local economies. This is the only way to tackle the economic and environmental crises, return local control of the economy to citizens and provide a sense of hope for their future . . .”

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Transition town focus

A transition town is a grassroots community project that seeks to build resilience in the face of peak oil, climate destruction and economic instability. Local projects are usually based on the model’s 12 ‘ingredients’. The first initiative to use the name was Transition Town Totnes, founded in 2006.

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Between late 2006 and early 2007 the Transition Network was founded as a UK charity by permaculture educator Rob Hopkins. It trains and supports people involved with Transition initiatives, disseminates the concepts of the transition model and assists the grassroots initiatives to network with one another.

local money coverSome Transition Towns engage with ‘fiscal localism’ – see Dr Peter North’s book, ’Local Money’, which ends by setting out how money that stays in the community can be created – building loyalty between consumers and local traders rather than losing wealth to the corporate chain stores. It charts the development of the first Transition currencies, the Totnes, Lewes, Stroud and Brixton Pounds. Note a sister post about the more recent Bristol pound. It also describes how alternative currencies could work with local banks and credit unions to strengthen the local economy, supporting the local production of necessities such as food and energy while helping to reduce the community’s carbon emissions.

The book draws on the long history of local currencies, from Local Exchange Trading Schemes and ‘time banks’ to paper currencies such as BerkShares, Ithaca ‘Hours’ and German regional currencies, which circulate between local businesses as an alternative to their losing trade to the ‘big box’ retailers.

In 2012 on this site we read about Herefordshire Transition Network’s intention is to develop ‘a thriving, resilient Herefordshire economy’ capable of meeting ‘the challenges of climate change, energy security and economic uncertainty’. The network includes a range of people and organisations across the country, many of whom were represented at a meeting attended by LWM’s Jon Stevens.

State of play now?

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Nearer, see news from Stourbridge: http://transitionstourbridge.co.uk/about/  

For news of transition projects around the country, go to http://www.transitionnetwork.org/ and for a list of transition initiatives worldwide, go to https://www.transitionnetwork.org/initiatives

A message from Delhi about growth blindness: a manufactured disease

An economic system created by and for moneyed interests:

devinder sharma 4Analyst Devinder Sharma writes about universities, educational institutes and business schools which are churning out graduates and postgraduates who are made to believe in the magic potion of growth. Newspapers are full of reports and quotes about growth. Finance ministers everywhere in the world swear by economic growth.

TV anchors, most of whom have not ventured out of their plush offices for years, are hung up on economic growth because that is what they have read in the university, and if they ever try to question the growth paradigm, the business house owning the channel will throw them out.

He concludes: basically, it’s all about protecting and saving your job. Whether you are a journalist, economist, academician, credit rating analyst or a politician, singing the growth chorus will help to save your job.

  • When we are told 80% of Americans live in ‘near poverty’ we just ignore it.
  • When we read that pollution levels in China and India are reaching dangerous levels, we take it as a small sacrifice that people must make for the sake of growth.
  • When the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that the world is getting closer to a tripping point, we go back to textbooks which tells us that every disaster is a business opportunity – meaning more growth.

The EU’s 5th Project: transitional Governance in the Service of Sustainable Societies

Olivier de SchutterOver the years, a handful of thinkers, including some economists, have begun to question the sustainability of growth economics. Their number is growing with each passing week. While the objective of this piece is not to take you through the corridors of alternative to growth economics that is building up, look at the latest initiative by Olivier De Schutter, who till recently was the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. He called for a conference: The EU’s 5th Project: transitional Governance in the Service of Sustainable Societies, which has just been held in Brussels, May 8-9, 2014. Olivier says:

We need alternatives to GDP growth as the goal of public policy, and we need alternatives to work and wealth accumulation as the driving forces in our lives. A genuine transition in the way we live is the only true path to sustainability. But it must be accompanied by a transition in the way we govern. This is Europe’s fifth project.”

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Booking closed well before the event as demand exceeded the number of places. Among the speakers noted were Rob Hopkins of Transition Towns, and social epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson.

The EU’s 5th Project Conference posed a few key questions. These are the basic questions that every sensible person should be asking:

There are already distinguished people working on a radical overhaul of the food system, making it more local and sustainable. There are social entrepreneurs, academicians, thinkers, writers and activists who are talking of the Economics of Happiness. There are environmental movements across the globe that are fighting for bringing in some sanity in the economic growth paradigm. Their voice is growing.

Sharma ends: “Meanwhile, stand up and be counted. It’s time to remove growth blindness. At stake is your own survival, and the future of your children. You can’t leave a dead planet behind”. #

Extracts from a post by Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality

Community currencies

There are local or community currencies in several British towns, including Bath, Stroud, Totnes, Calderdale, Bristol and Brixton – and in many countries around the world. The most recent reports have come from India and South Africa.

Jeremy Williams writes that with the financial system in disarray and the economic downturn, local currencies come into their own: “They are counter-cyclical: when the mainstream economy falters, the alternative economy soars . . . In times of recession, it is hard to generate new cash for investment, especially for local businesses or small initiatives. Alternative currencies can create new opportunities in the same way that banks do, but much more organically”.

bhopal coinShopkeepers in Bhopal, India, have floated their own currency. Faced with the shortage of Rs. 5 coins and undamaged notes, shopkeepers have introduced a plastic coin as a parallel currency – which they are willing to trade with.

A liquor shop proprietor in the market initiated the scheme which is supported by other shopkeepers selling snacks, stationery, eggs and other ‘edibles’. They accept the coin ‘issued’ by the liqour shop and after having collected five or 10 such coins, return them to the liquor shop and take Rs. 100 or Rs. 50 in lieu of these.

As the boy at the liquor shop counter hands over the coin to a customer, he would say “you can use it anywhere in five no market stop” before you could ask him any question. A person at the counter sits with a bag full of these plastic coins.

ora currency notesOn Radio 4 recently there was a report about Orania, a town in the northern Cape populated by white Afrikaners. They are working towards building a self-sufficient community.

Since 2004 they have used notes designed by a local artist, known as the ora, which can only be spent within the town. As in many other schemes the Afrikaners want to keep money in the local economy.

funny money david boyleDavid Boyle – in his book Funny Money – mentions a deli that wanted to move to a new premises. When the bank refused to lend the money they needed to do this, the deli owner invented his own currency – the ‘deli dollar’. A deli dollar was simply a voucher that could be redeemed later in the year. The owners sold $5000 worth of deli dollars to regulars, and created a loan for themselves from their customer base. As customers brought the vouchers in over the next year, the loan was re-paid in food.

His conclusion: though these currencies cannot do everything mainstream currencies do, they can be effective in many areas where dollars and pounds are simply not effective:

“They do not build communities, they do not respond to needs, they do not build families, they do not tackle poverty. Local money does, and for that reason, I believe it will work.”

 

Our current economic predicament defined and the MCED way forward highlighted

 

Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Movement, quotes a brief but pointed analysis from a new report by Dr Tim Morgan called ‘The Perfect Storm: energy, finance and the end of growth‘, published by FTSE 250 company Tullett Prebon, saying:

“It’s stirring stuff.  His analysis of why we have ended up in our current economic predicament runs thus:

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He offers the best, and most to-the-point discussion of why energy return on energy invested (EROEI) matters, and why peak oil ought not be thought about as just the end of cheap energy, rather as the end of energy with a low EROEI.

Hopkins then quotes from a ‘fascinating post’ by Karen Leach of Localise West Midlands on the REconomy site, which gives him a sense of why what she calls “community economic development” or on this website we might call REconomy or “community resilience as economic development” is so different from the current all-prevailing approach, and why it addresses our needs far better.

Writing about their excellent recently published report ‘Mainstreaming Community Economic Development’, she summarises the report’s finding thus:

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The Resilience imperative – Cooperative Transitions to a Steady State Economy

resilience imperative conatyLocalise West Midland’s co-founder, Patrick Conaty, has just published a book co-authored with Mike Lewis: The Resilience imperative – Cooperative Transitions to a Steady State Economy. It examines many elements of a resilient local economy, collating and critiquing many examples of how this has been achieved all over the world over the last 150 years.

The term ‘resilience ‘ is coming to the fore; the American organisation of that name focusses on building community resilience in a world of multiple emerging challenges: “the decline of cheap energy, the depletion of critical resources like water, complex environmental crises like climate change and biodiversity loss, and the social and economic issues which are linked to these”.

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Extracted from Pat’s interview with Naresh Giangrande from the Transition Network:

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NG: Why should someone involved in a Transition Initiative read this book?

PC: Mike and I were aware that although there have been many social and environmental change solutions developed, there has been a lack of strategic thinking. How can we join these partial solutions up? Through co-researching and co-writing the book over three years, we felt that we could clarify a Great Transition strategy for going forward by bringing together different fragments of positive change strategically and practically. We saw a need to bring ecological and cooperative economics together. Kenneth Boulding, a founder of ecological economics was the first to call for a Great Transition in the mid 60s, and saw the need to link cooperative and ecological economics together. . .

NG: You were involved in the 1990’s in The Real World Coalition seeking to bring together the third world development, green movement, social justice movement, small business, and micro credit movement.   Is this book in some way an expression of that impulse?

PC: The Real World Coalition united over 30 NGOs in the UK from these sectors and was led by Jonathan Porritt, Sara Parkin and Mike Jacobs. It was unique in that it spent three years developing a common manifesto among the NGOS. We need something like this again. How do we unite the fragments of change, to tackle the big issues? We have to come together .Yes this book is looking at the intervening years and what are the practical, tried and tested ways that people have been cooperating and  been successful in creating the pieces of local resilience . . .

NG: If you were to synthesize ecological and cooperative economics what would you come up with?

To root the integrated theory with practice, we looked at basic needs – food, shelter, finance, and energy services – and how could we meet human needs  co-operatively and what are the practical ways that have been pioneered to satisfy these needs and build a sustainable society  . . .

NG: I loved your tables at the end of chapter showing the costs to an average family.

PC: Yes we took a family of four and looked at what if we were addressing their needs in the new economics way and what would be the impact on their household budget.

NG: And the result?

PC:  We substituted usury based on high rates of compound interest with mutual fee based money and private energy and food monopolies with energy and food coops. We also show savings by converting housing to Community Land Trusts to take the land cost out of the market. The result we found is that there are significant savings to be made in each instance and the cumulative results show the practical potential for a steady state economy.

For an average family of four, you make a savings on energy and financing of over $360,000 over 25 years. Local organic food would be more expensive, but the net savings including food are still $280,000 over 25 years. We converted this to life hours which translated into saving 10 hours a week per household. This is significant . . .

NG: You have a keen sense of how there is nothing new. The REconomy project, need for land access, and social justice. Others have been over this ground many times before.

PC: We have lost sight of the historic and international struggles over that past 170 years for achieving land reform, economic democracy and for a co-operative economy.

As a result each generation typically starts with a blank page which is tragic because we lose sight of what these struggles can tell us so we can move forward faster and more effectively.

I am convinced that cooperative solutions lie at the heart of the new economy. We explore in diverse chapters the growing social solidarity economy internationally – which is generally below the radar – but none the less a powerful force. It is often unaware of its power, despite the fact that co-ops globally employ more people than multinationals . . . Some exciting work we show is going on with La Via Campesina uniting small farmers globally, in Quebec with co-op federations in Montreal and in the social co-ops in Northern Italy.

 

The Resilience Imperative Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty New Society Publishers 2012. Paperback: ISBN: 978-0-86571-707-7; ebook ISBN: 978-1-55092-505-0

Read this interview in full on the Resilience website and an interview with Mike Lewis here.

 

 

Establishing the Potential of a Transition Enterprise Economy in Herefordshire

Last Thursday I attended a meeting at the Hereford Cider Museum to discuss the work which Nick Sherwood and colleagues from Herefordshire Transition Network are doing on developing ‘a thriving, resilient Herefordshire economy’ that is capable of meeting ‘the challenges of climate change, energy security and economic uncertainty’. They are working with a range of people and organisations across the county, many of whom were represented at the meeting.

The meeting began with a presentation from Fiona Ward of Totnes Transition Network describing the radical economic development plan, they are working on, using the principles set out in the excellent REconomy Programme that has been developed by the Transition Movement.

In Totnes, they had used the three building blocks of Reconomy – developing leadership and a shared vision, seeking to transform existing organisations and starting new enterprises – to look at how localised approaches to economic development could be applied to; food production and distribution, housing retrofitting, local energy production and care and well-being.

They had collected detailed information about how these products and services are being delivered currently in Totnes and they had analysed the balance between local and non-local production in each category. They had then looked at ways in which existing businesses could increase the proportion of local production/delivery, which they undertake, and the gaps, which this would still leave. On this basis they had identified opportunities to establish a number of new local enterprises.

The plan had gathered support from a wide range of partners/stakeholders, including the Local Authority, the Chamber of Commerce and many local businesses, some larger businesses and the third sector. They were now looking to reach agreement with several large non-local businesses, as to how they could improve their local ‘offer’. They were also working with existing local businesses to strengthen their position and they were working on 20 different proposals for new enterprises.

Fiona’s presentation was very well received and sparked a lively debate between the different groups and organisations at the meeting. There was surprising degree of consensus about the need to develop a local economy in Herefordshire that was sustainable and that supported local enterprises that embraced Transition thinking. This included many of the private sector representatives, including a member of the LEP, who was keen to see Herefordshire support innovative ways of doing things rather than simply chasing inward investment.  The Local Authority representatives were also supportive, although they rather suggested that their economic development plan had got there first! There was concern about the lack of co-ordination and the danger of duplication of work. The Bulmer Foundation, which already invests in various projects around sustainability, offered future investment in the project, which was very encouraging.

Localise WM is excited about the REconomy potential in Herefordshire and sees potential mutually beneficial links with the findings of our Mainstreaming Community Economic Development project, which we hope to explore with Transitioners in Hereford and elsewhere soon.

Jon Stevens