Holistic Management

Allan Savory has an interesting background. Amongst his experiences, he is also a biologist. I think this will have served him well as he sought to address desertification in his native Zimbabwe.

While many call for less livestock, and for good reason, Allan blames their detrimental impact on management (or lack of, as the case may be), rather than absolute numbers. Allan’s Holistic Management techniques instead use dense livestock herds to increase fertility and biomass (and thus soil carbon) and to increase human prosperity.

But Savory’s prescription seems shockingly simple – and it’s taken him 50 years of work to convince others that he’s not crazy. The core of Holistic Management is simply grazing local livestock in super dense herds that mimic the grazing patterns of big-game (which have since disappeared). Those livestock in turn till the soil with their hooves and fertilize it with their dung – thus preparing the land for new vegetation in a cycle that was evolved over millions of years.

Surprisingly, that flies in the face of modern wisdom about land management – the typical response is to rest land completely, and livestock are often named as the chief culprits in desertification. "We’ve been ridiculed for 50 years," says Savory. But he argues that examples from around the world show that resting the land doesn’t prepare it for the return of vegetation – instead, it simply remains barren, with rain simply running off soil that stays cracked and dry. "But when you range animals correctly, the land starts returning," he says. "The only thing that can do it is a heavy herbivore with a wet gut." – Fastcompany.com

This year Allan’s work was recognised by becoming the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge Award recipient.

As permaculturists already acknowledge, it’s simply about putting a little observation and design into our systems – and emulating those natural systems that have worked successfully for millennia. As we move into an era of energy descent, an increasing awareness of how to implement systems which require less energy inputs (fossil fuel and human) whilst increasing soil carbon, water absorption, biodiversity and overall climate stability, will serve us very well indeed.

A few more short videos from Holistic Management: