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Money Systems and Permaculture Design

When it comes to the subject of money and Permaculture, the focus of most of the discussions seem to be whether or not Permaculture can be profitable. These are important discussions, but due to poor framing, the discussions often turn into an unfair criticism of Permaculture Design.

In short, for many the answer to the question: “Can I make money with Permaculture Design?” is “Not really, but there are a few examples out there.”

I would contend that Permaculture Design should only be questioned on its validity as a method of design, not for whether or not it can be profitable.

Profitability depends on a lot of factors such as the business acumen of the one attempting to make money, timing, fate and fortune, and so there are people who can make money using Permaculture Design and there are also people who can’t make money by banking.

It would be similar to asking; “Can I make money with Mathematics?” or “can I make money with Bitcoin?”, the latter being a very common google query. Hasty generalizations of this sort will lead to disappointment.

If we want to design and build a site that is ecologically sound and beneficial, then use Permaculture Design and apply it well. If we want to figure out how to make money using that site, go get an MBA or otherwise figure out how to make it  profitable.

What happens when Permaculture Designers focus on designing money?”

When it comes to money, the inquiry by Permaculture Designers should instead focus on the design of the money systems themselves. Permaculture Designer’s are after all engaged in the design of human infrastructure and processes. Money systems catalyze and enable the exchange of goods and services, including our food, building, and water systems, which attract the focus of most Permaculture designers.

What we have to understand is that the dominant money system that is in place has been designed and is subject to design. And most importantly that we can design alternatives and complimentary money systems. Many already exist and there is room for more. Just as in food production, money systems need diversity and abundance, instead of scarcity and monocultures.

community currency

If Permaculture Design as a movement is to be truly viable, it simply can’t be another way of “making money” but must help to lead to a reconstruction of the systems that serve us.

Money systems come under the umbrella of ‘Invisible Structures’ in Permaculture Design. Bill Mollison describes invisible structures as half of Permaculture. Despite his emphasis it seems that in practice  invisible structures are given less attention than herb spirals.

Those of us who are using Permaculture Design to improve our food systems would best be served by having a better understanding of how the current money system works and how alternatives might be designed and implemented or how existing alternatives may better serve the function of achieving that holy grail of Permaculture goals: Fair Share

It is a massive topic and can’t be mastered in a short time, but the majority of us can have a solid understanding of the basics and we should. We can direct the reader to our resource library to start the journey of learning how the current money system works as well as introductions to a diverse set of alternatives.

There is a parallel between the financial industry giants and the disruptive upstarts such as Bitcoin, hoping to move beyond disruption. It is similar to the upstarts of Permaculture hoping to overthrow the control that giant conglomerates including Monsanto and Conagra have  over the food systems of the world.

Due to these parallels, we should increase the communication and cooperation between the alternative agriculture upstarts and the alternative financial upstarts. We have much in common. We want food to be of higher quality, locally sourced and fairly and transparently administered. Many of the alternative financial upstarts want similar goals with respect to money systems.

The communication and cooperation might achieve the following:

Those working on developing local food systems will be aided by being able to utilize and even develop their own form of money and trading systems.

Those in the alternative money world will benefit from the popular support that can be drawn from the increasing numbers of people adopting their alternatives to engage in trade.

The benefits can be deeper still, in the form of transitive idea sharing, where  design ideas from Permaculture might be useful for those designing financial alternatives and vice versa. Exchange is rife throughout nature, and as Permaculture design derives a number of ideas from nature it is not far-fetched to assume that these ideas can be lent to the financial applications being developed. Digital distributed ledgers, block-chains and other similar concepts would likely be very useful for a number of  applications that Permaculture Designers can adopt and incorporate into the process of designing.

Permaculture Design must move beyond the idea of designing discrete individual sites. Redesign and development of  society-wide infrastructure and processes can not be achieved without inclusion of money systems.

In that light, Murujan Permaculture plans to offer more programs and courses specifically addressing invisible structures. One of those projects is a digital identification system designed to assist stateless people such as the Rohingya. We plant to provide more detail describing that project in more detail in a future article.

Another project of note is the work being done by Grassroots Economics based in Kenya. The community currency system that has been developed is among the activity that Permaculture Designer’s should be aware of.

In early 2017, a couple members of the Murujan team had the wonderful opportunity to visit Kenya to meet with the amazing team of Grassroots Economics and observe the functioning community currency they have helped to develop. They have developed a diverse pool of distinct currencies for many communities around Kenya, which are collectively referred to under the umbrella of Sarafu Credit.

This short video describes the Bangla-Pesa, which was the first incarnation of the Sarafu Credit system in an area nearby Mombasa.

One of the salient features of Sarafu Credit is an accounting system that functions as a distributed ledger which has some similarities to the digital distributed ledger that underpins technologies such as bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. An important distinction is that Grassroots Economics focuses on building strongly integrated community exchange systems, something which crypto-currencies are hard-pressed to emulate. The difference is qualitative and palpable. The current financial manipulation of Bitcoin is evidence of the weakness of sterile systems that overly rely on technology. The rich and lively community-based interactions are fundamental to a sustainable and healthy exchange system.

Murujan is proud to be able to announce and help to promote the 5-day Certification in Community Currency Design which will be on location in Mombasa, Kenya. We invite you to dive deep into a fully implemented and functioning community currency system in an amazing location with passionate and sincere instructors who have been putting these concepts into practice since 2010.

Certification in Community Currency Design- Kenya February 2018

Dates: 19th OF February UNTIL 23RD OF February 2018

Location: Mombasa, Kenya

Instructors: Will Ruddick, Caroline Dama

Course Fee: KS150,000 (Aprox. USD $1450) 

Early Bird Fee: KS 124,500 (Aprox. USD $1199) 
Only payments made before January 15th, 2018

murujan tours register now

Please register to receive the program and other important information about this course.

This documentary gives a bit more background on the project and the Instructors of the course.