THE community currency initiative emerged last year in Tambon Naso, in Yasothon province’s Kutchum district.
Two volunteers from the Thai Volunteer Service Foundation, J Powell from Canada and Menno Salverda from the Netherlands, proposed the initiative.
People in Tambon Naso have wholeheartedly embraced the project, which was first implemented in March.
However, the Bank of Thailand (BOT) has said its implementation could be a violation of the Monetary Act. The central bank is investigating, and project operators may face criminal charges if found to have violated the act.
Before the arrival of Powell and Salverda, Tambon Naso had been a strong community, rich in solidarity and local development initiatives.
But people in Tambon Naso also felt the repercussions of the big cities’ woes during the economic crisis. Young people who had left to work in industrialised cities could no longer send as much income home. Some were laidoff, while others had their salaries cut dramatically.
In response, 120 Tambon Naso residents formed a self-help group called “Hed Yoo Hed Kin” (Making a Living Group). Its goal was to enhance agricultural activity in the pursuit of economic selfsufficiency.
The group’s first move was to raise Bt12,000 from its members. The money was used to dig a water pond and fertilise farmland.
Then Powell and Salverda came along and proposed the Thai Community Currency System project (TCCS), according to Buathong Bunsi, a manager of Bia Kutchum Bank.
The project was aimed at building an independent local economy using the community currency, called “Bia Kutchum” (Kutchum Pence), as a tool. The community currency system has been used in parts of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, Power and Salveroa say.
Tambon Naso community leaders consulted a revered monk in their community, Phrakhru Supha Charuwat, abbot of Wat Ban Tha Lat, as well as local lawyers about possible repercussions of the project. Buathong said they were told issuing a community currency would not violate any laws as the currency was used only in their community.
Eventually, community leaders agreed to launch the project, and Bia Kutchum Bank was established as a memberbased community organisation to be run by committee. It had 120 founding members.
With financial support from Japan Foundation Asia Centre, the bank printed Bia Kutchum money coupons and introduced them to members and to other Tambon Naso residents as the community’s currency in late March, she said.
The exchange rate was set at one bia to one baht.
Bank members can receive interestfree loans of up to 500 bias annually, with the entire amount due by the end of the year. Also, members may open savings accounts at the bank, and may withdraw bias from the accounts at any time, Buathong said.
So far, the bank has printed money coupons worth 30,000 bias, in denominations of one, five, 10, 20 and 50 bias. Some 33 members have already withdrawn a total of 7,000 bias from the bank, Buathong said. Besides functioning as a community financial institution, the bank holds meetings and workshops to inform members about the bank’s community currency system.
In those meetings, members are encouraged to express their views and vote on the bank’s operations, she said.
The bank holds its own weekly farm product market where members can spend their bias and sell their farm products to other members.
The market aims to help ease members’ financial difficulties, so the prices of food sold there are cheaper than food prices elsewhere, Buathong said.
The bank holds markets in each of five different villages of Tambon Naso every Saturday.
Those villages are Ban Tha Lat, Ban Sok Khumpoon, Ban Santisuk, Ban Kut Hin, and Ban Khokklang.
BY BENJAWAN SOMSIN
LAST MODIFIED: Wednesday, 10-May-00 12:52:42 EDT
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