Cashing in on cow shares!

There are local alternatives to the excesses of global capitalism

I am so excited. An investment opportunity I have been anticipating for some time has finally opened up. Nick Rodway, a local farmer who along with his wife Pam has devoted his working life to the production and promotion of organic food and ethical farming, has just called to offer me a share in his dairy herd.

Nick and Pam launched the "Cow Shares" scheme some years ago as a way of raising capital so that they could expand their dairy herd. The herd of 18 head of Ayrshire cattle produces milk of the highest quality with which Pam and Nick make wonderful traditional Scottish cheeses.

Nick and Pam were disinclined to go to the bank. This was for both pragmatic and ideological reasons. On the one hand, there was a natural desire to escape punitive interest rates and bank changes. On the other, Nick and Pam are dedicated to supporting their local economy and to promoting resource flows locally rather than seeing the community’s wealth haemorrhaging out.

So, rather than applying for a bank loan and facing the prospect of watching their interest payments wander off across the globe to finance all kinds of destructive, industrial practices that they have dedicated their lives to replacing, they turned to their home community.

The idea is very simple. A £500 investment buys a share in the dairy herd. This is a five-year loan to the farm, with eight percent annual interest paid in the form of a combination of cheese and manure, according to the preference of the investor. This system creates bonds of affection between the farm and its neighbouring community, raises capital for the farmer and helps in the reconstruction of the local economy – keeping resource flows local and on a human scale. Perhaps even more important, this kind of scheme represents a playful alternative to the anonymity of global markets, providing a gentle reminder that people can still take a measure of economic power into their own hands.

Today, there are many such shares systems operating according to similar principles all over the world. The idea originated in the celebrated case of Deli Dollars in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. When a local delicatessen owner was refused a bank loan to finance an extension, he turned to his clientele. He issued "deli dollars" – refundable over the course of the following year – to the value of $5,000. In this way, his customers pre-financed the extension. In return, he was guaranteed $5,000 worth of custom and his delicatessen grew even more in the affection and esteem of its local community. What is more, the deli dollars started doing the rounds as an alternative currency, even turning up in the collection plate of a local cleric who was known to have a taste for the deli’s pizzas.

From Manhattan to the Moray Firth, local economic experimentation is alive and well. As the monster that is global capitalism gorges on the obscenity of its own excesses, small-scale, decentralised alternatives are already at work, re-weaving the web of community and ecology. Long live Cow Shares!

Jonathan Dawson is a sustainability educator based at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. He is seeking to weave some of the wisdom accrued in 20 years of working in Africa into more sustainable and joyful ways of living here in Europe. Jonathan is also a gardener and a story-teller and is President of the Global Ecovillage Network.
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.