Earlier this month a regional court in Moscow ruled that farmer Mikhail Shlyapnikov could not print or use his own currency. Shlyapnikov plans to appeal the ruling. The farmer introduced his own type of exchange unit, kolions, to insulate his village from economic turmoil. The currency name comes from his village, Kolionovo, and was pegged to the potato, with one kolion equaling 10 kilograms of potatoes which could be exchanged for labor or other food.
Shlyapnikov, who was formerly a Moscow business man, left the business world for farming 10 years ago. He doesn’t call kolions money. Instead, loan receipts. Shlyapnikov’s kolion, to be certain, is not as crazy as it might seem: for centuries, food has been used as money. Here are some examples:
- Salt has been used as a form of currency throughout history, and the word “salary” is derived from the Latin world “salarium”, Roman for “money used to buy salt.” In East Africa through the Middle Ages, salt was the primary form of currency. Roman soldiers received their salaries in salt.
- Parmigiano cheese was once used as currency. At one time, it was accepted as bank collateral in Italy.
- The cocoa bean has been used as money. In 1545, the purchasing value of cacao for varying goods in Tlaxcala were as follows: 1 good turkey hen=100 cacao beans; 1 turkey egg=3 cacao beans; 1 fully ripe avocado=1 cacao bean; 1 large tomato=1 cacao bean.
- Tea bricks were used in Central Asia. In Mongolia, these tea bricks were the favorite form of payment because they could be brewed or eaten.
- Bafia potato mashers were an ancient currency in the area of the world known today as the Republic of Cameroon in the ancient Bafian culture.
- Turmeric spice in coconut fibers were once used as currency in the Solomon Islands.
- In Burma, you can use poisonous seeds as money.
- With gold and silver scarcity being a problem for colonists in America, the Chesapeake colonies relied on tobacco as a currency. Cigarettes were used in the wake of devastation of many wars, like Europe’s World Wars. Tobacco was the most stable currency in the Chesapeake colonies, and even had an exchange value in gold terms.
- In Egypt, beer was used as a currency to pay slaves, tradesmen, priests, and public officials. In the late 1980s, residents used beer as a currency when inflation ravaged the country. Government workers would use their coupons for foreign beer which they then resold on the market. A few cases could procure a plane ticket to Lisbon.
- In New England, circa the mid-1700s, New England rum sold for approximately three schillings per gallon and was used as currency in what history terms the “triangle trade” with Africa and the West Indies.
- In UK youth prisons, fruits are being used as alternative currency due to the lack of quality food served by the prison.
- Academics sometimes research food stamps as a currency, as they represent more than $10 billion in personal income. Some say that, indeed, food stamps can substitute for what is generally considered money.