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Natural capital: ‘Let’s put our money where our mouths are’

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Instantly the blood is drained from the core of my being – syphoned on to the concrete floor. This leaves me paralysed at the realisation: it is lost. Gone. My wallet is gone!

From patron to beggar at the flick of a finger. Begging for money to pay the bill. Begging for a lift home. Begging for information. Begging for a ray of hope.  Wrapped in vulnerability.

Awash in a tsunami of emotions and thoughts while dining with my family. In the end, however, I’m all but brain dead. My bank and other cards, my ID, my driver’s licence, the cash… my upcoming trips abroad, the trip from the Western Cape to Gauteng the next day – all in a puff while slowly realising what it entails: police affidavits, department of home affairs queues, and, worse still… Waltloo Licencing Centre: an ulcer-giving thought.

Prof. James Blignaut is a resource economist attached to the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University. Photo: Supplied

It is just a wallet. It is not your life. Your loved ones are still with you. What is money after all? Nothing more than the product of human imagination; it does not exist outside of such. According to the textbooks, money is any generally accepted medium of exchange. That implies that any form of medium of exchange accepted by people can serve as money, but for people only.

Plants do not require money, neither do animals. Bees do not ask money to pollinate plants. Grass does not charge a fee for the energy and nutrients it provides to the grazing animal. Money solely exists in the human domain because people desire it to do.

Subsequently, money and especially monetary value become a barometer of our value judgements. It provides a mirror into which we can look and ask: What do we treasure? What do we value? Show your diary and chequebook to the world and reveal that which you consider important and of value. Conversely, monetary value is arguably the single most powerful indicator of confidence. Do we have confidence in tomorrow? Do we think that we can pay tomorrow’s bills with today’s money?

Click here to register for the “Heal the Land. Heal the People” webinar.

In all these questions, the issue is not money per se, but rather the values, ethics and desires – be those noble or roguish – that underpin our decisions and the monetary system that should be scrutinised. More so, since money is a coward – it first seeks the places where risk is perceived to be the least; like water it flows downhill to the lowest places in the dam.

‘Our investment decisions reflect our honesty’

The flow of money becomes an expression of and reflects the moral fibre and risk perception of the decision-maker. The flow of money is not only a reflection of yesterday’s value judgements, but also paves the way for its flow tomorrow.

In a broken world desperate for healing, our investment decisions today can either serve as a vanguard against the ill-fated choices of the past by charting out a new development pathway, or contribute to the further erosion of trust, increased risk with fewer investment opportunities and leading us and our children deeper down into a moral and ethical abyss and increased poverty.

Do we earnestly seek healing? Do we care enough to seek healing? Do we seek restoration? – Prof. James Blignaut

The question is simple, be it at governmental, business, or personal level: which future do we desire? Our investment decisions today will reflect our honesty. Follow the money trail – it does not lie. If we, individually or collectively, seek a future of decay, destruction and disaster, we will take decisions to that effect. Money will flow according to our decisions – it will accomplish the desire of the decision-maker: money the perfect serf. However, if we seek a future complete with health and a happy place for all, then our investment decisions will reflect such a future, and so it will be, because money executes the will of the people.

In true democratic style money will work for the superior master. The resource in short supply is thus not money, but the tenacity and will combined with a mindset to carve out and invest in a future of healing that will usher in a wholesome future. The subject matter of accountancy has made such restorative investments easy for us. We’re enticed to invest in restoration. This is done by the newly adopted definition of what constitutes an asset.

Restoration of natural capital
“Heal the Land. Heal the People” is the brainchild of the Integra Trust, a special-purpose entity which was established to advance climate-smart sustainable and regenerative agriculture. Photo: GreenBiz

According to the International Accountancy Standards Board, an asset is a present economic resource controlled by the entity as a result of past events. Investment in the betterment of an economic resource by an entity that has control over such resource, based on a past event such as a purchasing agreement, is an investment in an asset. This implies that the investments in the betterment of agricultural land and conservation areas are investments in an asset.

Restoration of natural capital

Such restoration of natural capital should thus be duly accounted for on the balance sheet, not only on the expenditure statement. Let us put our money where our mouth is – our mouths are enjoying the produce of the soil; our mouths are the gateway to our health. Let money be used to heal the land, and the land will look after us.

Do we earnestly seek healing? Do we care enough to seek healing? Do we seek restoration? Do we as a society realise that healing reduces risk and vulnerability for all? Does the flow of money reflect our value system? This healing can happen in a variety of ways.

An investment firm, a pension fund, an insurer, any Thabo, Dick and Hannah can realise that investing in the health of people, investing in the health of the soil, reduces system-wide risk, and that such value-driven investments contribute to system-wide healing. Also, consumers can request retailers to stock produce that have been farmed regeneratively in a way that heals the land. In this way money will follow the request and increase the investment in regenerative agriculture. The possibilities abound.

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The sickening alternative is the perpetuation of the investment patterns of the past; doing the same things of the past in the same way will render the same outcome – increased brokenness, increased risk, increased poverty with money increasingly hiding in a far-away place.

With the help of a friend my wallet has been restored to me. Early the next morning I traced back my steps and located it in the boardroom where I had a meeting the day before. Imagine the relief. Reconnected with a bunch of plastic. If being restored to a wallet can be so liberating, freeing me from queues and endless paperwork, not to mention the freedom to drive my own vehicle, how much more would the liberation be when societies, communities and businesses alike, work together towards healing. Let the flow of money reflect our collective restorative, regenerative, value system.

  • Prof. James Blignaut is attached to the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University, and an honorary research associate attached to the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON). He is one of the speakers at the “Heal the Land. Heal the People” webinar held on Thursday, 18 March on World Sustainable Gastronomy Day. Click here for free registration to the historic webinar.
James Blignaut
James Blignaut
Prof. James Blignaut is attached to the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University, and an honorary research associate attached to the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON). He is also a director of the Integra Trust.
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