Doughnut communities

How we bring Kate Raworth’s economics into practice

Most reasonable people on Earth will agree that it would be wise and perhaps morally just to treat our planet and all her richness wisely and with respect. However, it seems we are stuck in a system and no one knows how to push the stop button. From an academic point of view Kate Raworth provides a framework for humankind to sort the puzzle. Humanities’ challenge is to stay within the safe range: while enabling all people on earth to benefit from all good things modernity has brought us, collectively we need to be cautious not to cross our environmental boundaries.

Biodiversity provides income

Zachs and his team in Big Nganjo oversees the new tree nursery. Proudly he explains how the village committee takes care of the nursery; visit the nursery, constitute the propagator and the main nursery, weed the nursery and irrigate the nursery, harvest from the propagator and plant into bags the mature seeds on a weekly basis. Very soon the community can start planting indigenous trees in a large area surrounding a huge water source that will provide over 20,000 villagers with clean and safe drinking water. The water source is community owned and has been designated by the community as a protected area/watershed free from farming activities that would eventually contaminate the water. The trees improve ground water levels and offer shelter to endangered species; both flora and fauna. However, perhaps most critically, these trees offer income to the villagers. The villagers can harvest a rich variety of ‘non-timber forest products’ (NTFP) like bush mango, medicinal leaves, seeds and nuts. This is a source of income that is as much threatened as elephants, mandrills and apes because of replacing forests by farmland.

Growth has a prize

In recent decades, humanity has been profoundly successful in fighting poverty, malnutrition, diseases, and so on. As Yuval Noah Harari explains clearly in his book; Homo Deus: our capitalist view on the world, in which progress and growth are natural and necessary, improved life conditions on a large part of humankind. Despite many people living in better conditions now than ever before, still large parts of the world’s population live in abject poverty. These people, and who would blame them, feel they as well deserve to reap the benefits from modern day conveniences. However, as Harari and many other academics warn us, this growth has a prize. We might be heading towards an ecological catastrophe. Correction: we are already in the middle of it. Most scientists agree, within the current model of economic growth and subsequent use of earth’s resources, the emancipation of the remaining part of humanity will amplify ecological catastrophe.

Doughnut Economics to prevent ecological catastrophe

In her battle to change our perspective on growth, Kate Raworth has criticized current economic models. She believes economic theory does not take into account our context sufficiently. Earth’s resources are limited (despite many people believing technology will be able to develop infinite resources). She comes up with the concept of a Doughnut: a regenerative and distributive economy that takes into account both the social foundation to ensure no one falls short on life’s essentials and the environmental ceiling to ensure we do not deplete planet earth’s resources. Humanities’ challenge is to stay within the safe range: while enabling all people on earth to benefit from all good things modernity has brought us, collectively we need to be cautious not to cross our environmental boundaries.

Rural communities and their cycle of poverty

So that is the theory, but how do we bring the doughnut into practice? From our experience we notice that rural communities in the current economic system are forced to deplete their natural resources. Over time, rural communities are enticed to cut down more and more forests in order to establish cash crops like cocoa or palm oil. This is based on the assumption that the bigger the farm the more the output and consequent income. To make a living they now depend on fluctuating world market prizes and often shady middlemen. Meanwhile, the community loses the ability and the opportunity to generate income and food from the forest. Hence cash defines quality of life and they enter a vicious cycle of poverty. Because of monoculture water and soil quality will decrease, hugely affecting both drinking water and food production.

Doughnut communities: Reversing the cycle

We believe in a bottom up approach, because we see that communities in Cameroon can make a huge change in this regard. While investing in the regeneration of forest and reviving knowledge and skills of the community members to generate food and income from the forest, we stop the cycle of poverty. Biodiversity, water and soil quality all increase with positive effects on health and food collection and production within the communities. These benefits highly motivate the community members to adapt their local economy and protect their environment.

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Yuval Noah Harari (2015), Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow

Kate Raworth (2017), Doughnut economics, Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist

Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary – 4th Edition

capitalism an economic, political, and social system in which property, business, and industry are privately owned, directed towards making the greatest possible profits for successful organizations and people