There is no doubt but what Allan Savory is one of the most brilliant men to have ever lived. Anywhere his method is properly applied the health of the environment improves. So, if the method is so great, then why isn’t everybody doing it?
Reason #1 is personal and deals with personality. One of the greatest travesty’s ever to befall natural resource management is that the man has a very rude manner and abrasive personality. In short, he is a first class asshole. That can be witnessed during the very first part of the very last video where he and Jody set out to give us a tour of their African home–“since (we) are going to invade his privacy anyway…”
Reason #2 is political. Alan’s propensity toward collectivism goes back to his involvement in Rhodesian politics and the war. In June 1973, he made a public statement that, if he had been born a black Rhodesian, he would have been a (communist) guerrilla fighter.
Today, even the jargon and terminology that he and his followers use are traceable to the anti-private property and anti-free market “sustainable development” movement which was birthed at the 1992 U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio: Climate Change, Agenda 21.
This massive wealth re-distribution scheme is one of the most destructive forces of life, liberty and property ever faced by mankind and until “holistic” management divorces itself from these collectivist ideas, their progress and acceptance will continue to be slower than necessary.
But he is right, “cattle are the key.” — jtl
A marvelous community of farmers, pastoralists, ranchers, scientists and entrepreneurs from around the world gathered in London for the Savory Institute conference – “Putting Grasslands to Work” – on August 1-2, 2014. Attendees were inspired and empowered by the rich stories, scientific research, learning and networking that took place. The presentations are available HERE to watch.
We were obviously disappointed by the article by George Monbiot, published in The Guardian. It was unfortunate Monbiot could not attend the conference. He was invited personally in early July, added to our email blast list, and again invited when he contacted us during the conference. It was also unfortunate that he didn’t seem to find time to watch the presentations via the webstreaming or engage separately with scientific experts, practitioners, and Savory Institute staffers we made readily available to him before he released the article.
We are in fact admirers of much of Monbiot’s work and there is so much common ground for us to stand on. For example, Monbiot’s TED talk on the intrinsic value of predator-prey relationships is one of our favorites and we’ve shared it through our network.
When we planned the conference in London, journalists like Monbiot (him included) were high on our list of people we wanted to build personal relationships with, to discuss what we agree on and respectfully debate what we don’t. We knew the caliber of speakers and participants would make for an incredible educational opportunity that would then allow them to responsibly educate their followers. We depend on a deeply educated public that can drive signals to food producers with their daily food purchase choices – that is what will shift agriculture, including the proper raising of livestock on grasslands. To that end, resources were shared with Monbiot via e-mail prior and after the interview with Allan Savory, from explanations and contextual responses to his concerns, to peer-reviewed papers that have observed whole operations being managed holistically, to the scientific rebuttals to the papers on which he bases his criticisms. None was reflected in his article.
However, this message is not intended to go after Monbiot, but to address some misunderstandings in The Guardian article that may shine light on the matter and help us all find common ground upon which to build opportunity.
First off, the Savory Institute’s mission is centered on grasslands, not livestock. Grasslands are some of the most productive landscapes in the world and probably the least appreciated. For good reason, the world’s great grain growing regions are former grasslands, the deep soils of which formerly stored vast amounts of both carbon and water.
Healthy ecosystem function is highly dependent on the decaying processes. In places with year-round humidity and rainfall, like the UK, insects and microorganisms help break down grasses when their growing season has ended. However, in places with seasonal humidity and precipitation, like much of the rest of the world, grass plants still need a decaying mechanism. When it’s dry the microorganism and insect populations go dormant or, at the end of the wet season, die off. If left alone, the grasses will eventually turn grey, via chemical oxidation, under the sun. Unlike decay, this oxidation is so slow that old grass leaves are left standing, blocking out available sunlight to new growing points at ground level. If undisturbed these grasses can sit for decades, preventing any further growth and eventually dying.
Humans have used burning as a tool to curb this since the decimation of the wild herds of herbivores that historically completed this cycle. This burning releases a staggering amount of greenhouse gasses and leaves the soil bare and subject to wind and water erosion. All life is impacted, above and below the ground.
In these dry, seasonally-humid climates when the large wild herds of ruminants grazed while constantly bunched and moving, ecosystem function was intact. It is the predator-prey relationship insight that Allan Savory articulated in the 1960’s that keeps the grazers bunched and moving and maintaining the health and diversity of grasslands. The gut of the ruminants acts as a portable source of humidity for billions of microbes that provide the function of biological decay. That is nature’s intelligence at work. The animals digest the grasses and return the vast majority of that biomass back to land enriched with microbes and nutrients transformed into readily usable forms to fertilize the land. These herds also trample grasses providing soil cover and creating the conditions for it to act as a sponge to both hold water and prevent runoff and evaporation, much the same way the mulch in a garden bed does. Because no grazer likes to feed on its own dung and urine, the
herd moves on, which minimizes the chance that plants will be overgrazed. At our conference, Dr. Elaine Ingham explained with amazing detail what happens to soil life after a plant is grazed and left to recover. Healthy soils are formed, biological processes are kick-started and stimulated, and life thrives.
That does not imply, at all, that grazing and livestock are always good. We agree with Monbiot and many anti-livestock activists that most domesticated grazing has done tremendous damage to the landscape whether rotational or set-stock. And obviously industrialized CAFO meat production leaves a plethora of environmental disasters in its wake. So it is crucial, as Tony Lovell brilliantly put it in his address at the London conference, to distinguish livestock from properly managed livestock. Livestock is not the problem. It is how humans manage livestock that represent the problem – or the solution.
The vast amount of open space in the world is held and stewarded by people who depend on that land to make a living, largely from domestic livestock. Holistic Management is, at its core, a decision-making framework that addresses the financial and cultural needs of the people while simultaneously addressing the needs of the environment. If livestock are present we do not promote a formulaic grazing “system.” Rather, we use and teach a strategic and dynamic process, Holistic Planned Grazing that has been used successfully worldwide to enhance land productivity and health, while addressing the cash flow/profit needs and cultural contexts of managers.
Grazing systems are prescriptive. Holistic Planned Grazing plans the movement of livestock around a myriad of considerations such as needed plant and soil recovery periods, wildlife habitat needs, the protection of species during sensitive times in their lifecycle, water availability, livestock’s nutritional needs, management logistics, cash flow, social and cultural traditions and beliefs, quality of life, and so on. The Holistic Planned Grazing, Land Planning, Financial Planning, and Ecological Monitoring processes, used in unison with the Holistic decision-making framework help practitioners successfully manage the great complexity of their own contexts.
Land holders are encouraged to collect as much data and photo points as possible to inform their management year after year, and to assume any decision they make that affects the environment is wrong. Then while assuming the decision is incorrect, identify the early warning indicators and observe, monitor, and then proactively make changes and replan based on those early observations and data gathered. These feedback loops have proved to be invaluable. Even people in places with year round precipitation and humidity like most of Britain have found that these methods and practices help them drastically increase their land’s production capabilities and achieve a multitude of ecological, financial and quality of life goals. It is all in the holistic decision making approach, and in the strategic planning and proactive on-going control and replanning.
Nature is incredibly complex and managing complexity is very difficult and something humans have yet to master. If you remove a spring or sprocket from a watch it will stop functioning until you replace the missing part. If you remove a species from a functioning community there will be unforeseen consequences, but the system will self organize at a lower level of complexity and resilience. See this animation to explore this further.
Monbiot’s article repeatedly brought up the need for additional peer-reviewed literature supporting Holistic Management. Science is really effective at studying single-variable adaptations but it is still evolving to be able to effectively study whole systems. It’s these soft systems, like ecology, education, policy, economics, health, agriculture and nutrition that create some real problems for scientists to address. This inevetible complexity is why so many studies in those fields often appear to generate results that contradict each other.
We do recognize the need for additional research and other evidence to show results of management across complex systems. We actively work with scientists who both look at single variables within the system as well as whole systems science. We had quite a few scientists at the London conference who we introduced to Monbiot via emails, who study everything from greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, to ecological health, soil science, climate change, social well-being, etc. And we do have peer-reviewed literature studying Holistic Management, but it’s typically case specific, since its implementation is going to vary in each specific scenario. The practice and outcomes of managing holistically are framed by the differences and nuances of context and its inherent dynamic nature makes it impossible to address questions of replicability with a “black or white” answer.
Savory Institute is using third party monitoring partners to capture baseline data and provide ongoing monitoring of ecological and social indicators in all of our project sites. We are eager to have solid data to inform our own learning and the learning and success of our community of practice, and also to inform our dialogues within larger efforts (such as UN Global Compact, FAO Agenda for Action or the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef) to create opportunities in the marketplace and to inform policy.
This important work now transcends Allan Savory. In fact we are proud to say that our network of thousands of practitioners, educators, and advocates around the world are the best voices to represent the outcomes of Savory’s insights on the land, and within their families, and their communities. Approximately 40 million acres (16 million hectares) are managed under this proactive management approach. Our conference in London had over 25 countries represented from every habitable continent. These are people that have experienced the outcomes of this work first hand on their own land, in their own lives, in their own finances.
In recent years Savory Institute has developed and implemented a strategy to scale and accelerate the teaching and learning of Holistic Management and successful contextual implementation through a global network of affiliated “Hubs” that are locally led and managed in regions around the globe. Hub leaders have demonstration sites, provide training, consultation, implementation support, and monitoring services to local land managers – from commercial ranchers to nomadic pastoralists.. It has been a very successful journey so far, and we now have Hubs established in Sweden, Spain, Turkey, Kenya (multiple), Zimbabwe, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Mexico (multiple), and the U.S. (multiple).
For example, the Savory Hub in Argentina has influenced and trained over 60 farmers and is impacting over 1.2 million hectares. The Hub in Chile is as successful, working with over 20 large-scale farms and impacting 400,000 hectares with Holistic Management. Both Hubs have great partners in The Nature Conservancy, providing additional conservation advice and research, and Patagonia Inc., providing access to market incentives.
We are looking forward to soon have a Hub in the UK and are in conversations with some interested producers, including a young entrepreneurial farmer with a diversified livestock and cropping operation. If you’re interested in becoming a Hub, in any region of the world, Learn More and Apply Here. The incredible support of HRH Prince of Wales and other key influencers in the region have opened up some rich conversations and very promising opportunities in the region as well. Maybe Monbiot will have a chance to see with his own eyes in the near future the results of managing holistically.
We would love to invite Monbiot and all interested folks to visit our project sites or Hubs around the world, and always love to suggest the Africa Centre for Holistic Management in Zimbabwe, our first accredited Hub. It is Allan Savory’s home where they’ve been managing holistically for many years with remarkable results, amidst tremendous social and political challenges. Wildlife populations have exploded and species that had left the property have now returned en masse. All under increased stocking rates of properly managed livestock, and the resulting enhanced ecosystem function. Nearby villagers have been trained and are now using the same decision making framework to create the types of lives they desire, and seeing hope for a better quality of life, food on their plates, and the survival of their culture.
In regards to critics like Monbiot, we could spend a lifetime arguing about our differences in opinions but there is too much work to be done, and time is running out. The world is ripe with opportunity for collaboration. Rather than throw stones and point fingers we are committed to finding ways to work together – to help people regenerate landscapes and build in resilience for future generations.
We look forward to continuing the conversation.
Murray N. Rothbard was the father of what some call Radical Libertarianism or Anarcho-Capitalism which Hans-Hermann Hoppe described as “Rothbard’s unique contribution to the rediscovery of property and property rights as the common foundation of both economics and political philosophy, and the systematic reconstruction and conceptual integration of modern, marginalist economics and natural-law political philosophy into a unified moral science: libertarianism.”
This book applies the principles of this “unified moral science” to environmental and natural resource management issues.
The book started out life as an assigned reading list for a university level course entitled Environmental and Natural Resource Economics: The Austrian View.
As I began to prepare to teach the course, I quickly saw that there was a plethora of textbooks suitable for universal level courses dealing with environmental and natural resource economics. The only problem was that they were all based in mainstream neo-classical (or Keynesian) theory. I could find no single collection of material comprising a comprehensive treatment of environmental and natural resource economics based on Austrian Economic Theory.
However, I was able to find a large number of essays, monographs, papers delivered at professional meetings and published from a multitude of sources. This book is the result. It is composed of a collection of research reports and essays by reputable scientists, economists, and legal experts as well as private property and free market activists.
The book is organized into seven parts: I. Environmentalism: The New State Religion; II. The New State Religion Debunked; III. Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics; IV. Interventionism: Law and Regulation; V. Pollution and Recycling; VI. Property Rights: Planning, Zoning and Eminent Domain; and VII. Free Market Conservation. It also includes an elaborate Bibliography, References and Recommended Reading section including an extensive Annotated Bibliography of related and works on the subject.
The intellectual level of the individual works ranges from quite scholarly to informed editorial opinion.