Natural Capitalism and an Economy Driven by Sunshine

Content of the presentation for the Farming Matters Conference in  Albury, NSW, March 2020

Note: This conference was postponed due to “Corona-Virus considerations”.

If anything, a rapid spread of a potentially lethal virus, highlights the importance of building resilience back into landscapes, communities and people.

In the message that Chris shares below, he alerts to what he sees to be a far greater challenge to biosecurity.

Opening Slide:

After over forty years of living in the lucky country, my observation is that we are fast running out of luck.

The risk is very real that Australia will run out of reliable supplies of good water, long before we go hungry.


At a conference like this, the answer is in our face:

  • Appropriately behaved herbivores grow healthy vegetation
  • Healthy vegetation builds soils that hold & store water


When looking at the three pictures in the slide above, please note:

The water is now there because of the grass,

and the grass is now there because of the way we influence the behaviour of large herbivores.

Slide two:

If people living in towns and cities only begin to ask the question once they run out of water, for many, I fear the answer may come too late.



We need people asking better questions now.

Slide three:

Twenty years ago, I heard Christine Jones say that we do not want to sustain agriculture, as it exists in Australia.

“We cannot afford to sustain a degraded resource-base. As producers, we must regenerate our soils.” 

Slide four:

Think about it ...  

There has been an accident.

Somebody we love ends up in intensive care.

Doctors tell us not to worry, the condition is “critical, but stable”…

That may be a relief, but we certainly would not want to keep them in that state! 


So it is with our land.


When Christine made the case for regenerative agriculture, she was primarily talking to people who were in the business of feeding other people.


As water-security becomes a limiting factor in human economies beyond agriculture, it is advisable to appreciate the deeper meaning of Christine’s message.

Even in landscapes where there is no commercial activity, we do require the restoration of environmental services.

As Allan informed the world in 2013only regenerative pastoral practices can feasibly deliver that outcome.


Throughout my life it has been encouraging to watch the regenerative paradigm slowly gaining traction.

Sadly, sixty years later, extractive paradigms still prevail.

My suspicion is that too many good people out there, remain ignorant of some fundamental differences.


Here are some:

Slide five:

When we extract, we tend to view things as if we were on the outside looking in.


  • As we sit in the driver’s seat, we like to believe that we are in command
  • We focus on out-put …     systems, control, volumes …
  • We have become over-reliant on what has turned out to be ‘high-cost’ energy


Extractive approaches have served us well over time.

History lists the winners.

As long as nature or somebody else picked up the tabs for mistakes, there have always been at least some winners.



Let us take a look at the regenerative paradigm:


We acknowledge that we already play a part in what is taking place around us


Here we have an economy that is driven by sunshine - Terry McCosker calls it: replacing fossil-fuels with knowledge.


The key is photosynthesis!

  • We tap into the power of biology and energy that is constantly being renewed
  • We activate and stimulate the generation of wealth
  • Energy reserves are rebuilt and topped up
  • As we go, we get to reap and enjoy a portion of the surplus


This is done by using templates that Nature has already provided and tested.

What surrounds us, we treat as our inherited “natural capital”.

We apply capitalist thinking.

This means: we focus on strengthening the asset-base, so that it will remain intact and sustainably yield good interest.


Such an economy might look like this:

Slide six:

The "engine" that powers a dryland-economy is Biodiversity.

The fuel that it uses is Sunshine …

All models are water-cooled and use carbon as "cash to lubricate" transactions.


Teams do not compete, they play for each other.

  1. Producers
  2. Consumers
  3. Recyclers

(In the consumer team we include over 7 billion people with growing appetites for comfort and 'stuff')


In an ideal world, as long as the sun shines, and as long as rain drops out of the sky, and if every team does its job, the carbon cycle runs according to design.


Here in Australia we are doing a re-run of an experiment conducted after the arrival of the first humans.

Slide seven:

We are again replacing herbivores with fire …

The consequences were devastating then; they are devastating people, communities and landscapes at this moment…


Fire literally short-circuits the cycle, and the natural economy shrinks.


For the price of an airline-ticket we can look into the future.

Slide eight:

As watersheds & catchments dehydrate and erode:

  • we take advantage of nutrients being washed into the valleys
  • wildfire becomes less of an issue
  • droughts & floods increase
  • band-aid measures boost GDP and create photo-opportunities for politicians and do-gooders
  • eventually production areas begin to dehydrate
  • people run out of water


For an idea of the social fall-out watch the world news.



Dehydration is a leveller like few others.

Olympic athlete, concert pianist or obese chain-smoker, take away their fluids for 3 days and their individual performances will end up about the same.


Now watch dehydrating landscapes …  all of a sudden forests and wetlands that have never seen a fire in recent history, go up in flames.

Even high-tech, centre-pivot agriculture and best-practice permaculture cannot indefinitely survive dehydration at landscape levels.


As I see it, in much of Northern Australia, without proactive community support, it is now too late to effectively address issues like the mitigation of drought, flood and fire.

From what I can tell, many other parts of Australia are now in that same predicament. 


One would think that water-security should be Australia’s No.1 Biosecurity Concern.

Management and understanding appear to be limiting factors.


Let me wrap this up:

Slide nine:

We make all our daily decisions as if we expect to wake up tomorrow morning.

I’ll put it more bluntly: We make daily decisions ‘as if we will live forever’. 


Without this approach, humans would have gone extinct generations ago.


If only, as communities, we did our planning accordingly…

PARADOXICALLY we now all participate in a “global economy” that functions ‘as if there was no tomorrow’!


Eventually “tomorrow” does arrive.

Our grandparents called it the ‘law of the harvest’.


The older I get, the more I am convinced that the time has come for modern humans to begin planning

‘as if our grandchildren and their friends mattered’.


Managing holistically allows us to do this.

Regenerative practices will pave the turn-around.


From what I can tell, Allan’s Holistic Management is the “Rolls Royce” of the models now on offer.


I leave with you a map:

Slide ten:

Natural Capitalism is an Economy Driven by Sunshine


Our Point of influence is Stockmanship: This is how we influence all herbivore behaviour

The key is Grassfarming: a rapid increase in photosynthesis can draw down carbon and begin to put it back to where it will work for everybody

The area of maximum impact is Soilbuilding: we rebuild and fill up carbon-accounts in and on our soils

These three processes reward us with what I call ‘Rainfallmanagement’.

Rainfallmanagement allows us to rehydrate soils, and to replenish ground water and aquifers.


NOTE: Rainfallmanagement is a result of blending Stockmanship and Grassfarming, with Soilbuilding!


“Climate” is how we personally get to experience the interaction of these four simple, but complex processes.


“Climate Stability” is a result we aim for, by rebuilding the buffering capacity of biology, in the face of physical forces

that otherwise kill us.


Walter Jehne reminds us that, as she has done before, Nature will again stabilise climate.


The critical question he leaves for us to answer, is:


Will she do it now and with our help, or after and without us?


Thank you for paying attention, and I hope that I have given you some wholesome food for thought.


Chris Henggeler, Kachana Pastoral Company

Chris Henggeler is a student of eco-system function; his study takes place out there in the field where physics and biology blend in complex and dynamic life-shaping processes. Since late 1991 he and his family have been based on “Kachana” where they live in a simple camp very much exposed to the elements. On a patch of desertifying country abandoned by its earlier inhabitants and ignored by Industry, Chris believed more was possible. There was sunshine and there was rain, critical ingredients for biodiversity and rural productivity; the key he believed was management.


Chris sees himself as a Rhodesian born and raised farm boy with Swiss ancestry. His formal schooling ended at the age of 21 in Engelberg, Switzerland in 1978 with Matriculation in 12 subjects. Having had no farm to return to for political reasons, he kept going. Travels took him to Australia during the cattle-boom of 1979 where he fell in love with the Australian bush. With intimate connections to the African bush and the Swiss Alps this was easy to do despite the differences. A short stint of Vet-Science at

Sydney University convinced him that cities were not the place to be. He took on full-time employment with Stanbroke Pastoral Company (at Fort Constantine). From then on his study of how nature functioned was by observation, reading, courses and experimentation.


Over a period of twenty odd years he increasingly became aware that to a great extent the challenges facing Australian agriculture (in the broadest sense) today are human made. He is passionate in his quest to see humans and the animals that they have brought with them become part of the solution.

We thank all those individuals who have assisted us in spreading the regenerative message!

With the disastrous burning of biomass in Brazil and then in Australia late 2019, we see this message to be as relevant as ever.


Below are a few of the links that have helped put Kachana before the public eye in more recent years:


Swiss TV: SRF-Die ganze Geschichte online 2020.01.05 Simon Christen

Swiss TV: SRF-Youtube Simon Christen

For those who cannot read German: Small Miracles in the Australian Bush


"The New Water Alchemists", by Judith D. Schwartz. This story, which was originally published through The Craftsmanship Initiative in 2017, looks at some of the innovative ways that scarce water resources are being managed around the world, and how this basic element can become a powerful tool in our efforts to slow, and even reverse, climate change.




Central Station posted five blogs on Kachana, October 2018.

  1. Kachana: A 750mm-rainfall desert - Chris Henggeler
  2. Kachana: What are you doing here? - Jacqueline Henggeler
  3. Kachana's driveway in the sky - Bob Henggeler
  4. Can it fly? - Bob Henggeler
  5. We did not need wings to escape - Kieran Mooney


16th October 2018, at the bidding of the Minister, Chris was invited to present to members of the Ministerial Advisory Committee at the DPIRD Headquarters in Perth: