Allan Savory, a biologist and farmer, has been making large claims as how to reverse desertification around the world. The Savory Institute , located right here in South Boulder has been working on a solution to this growing issue. The basis of Savory’s ideas are that by increasing cattle by 400%, or to a size that they would naturally occur in the wild, grasslands could recover from years of desertification. In the wild, large herds of animals are constantly being moved around by natural predators. This movement ensures that no land is over grazed, while nutrient-rich urine and dung are trampled into the soil. Savory states that there is only one option to reversing desertification and that is “to do the unthinkable, and to use livestock, bunched and moving, as a proxy for former herds and predators, and mimic nature. There is no other alternative left to mankind.”
Through this concept, which Savory calls “holistic management” he hopes to restore carbon to the soil and enhance its biodiversity. His idea of holistic management has been used by multiple farms with positive outcomes.Many have called Savory’s ideas revolutionary and intriguing. Michael Pollan’s “Omnivores Dilemma” explores this idea, looking at farmer, Joel Salatin’s sucess with the strategy. “We became better grass farmers as a result of Savory’s tireless efforts. Meanwhile, we’ve seen our organic matter go from an average of 1 percent to about 8 percent. We’ve seen water runoff reduced, earthworm castings increase exponentially, and animal carrying capacity jump from 20 cows to 120 cows on the same acreage. The beauty of this paradigm is that it does not put ecology and economy in competition; it puts them in symbiosis. And that’s pretty awesome.”
Now, Savory’s ideas, while revolutionary, have met much criticism. George Monbiot of the guardian, the Journal of Biodiversity, Realclimate.org and countless other organizations have all stated that this technique not only does not work, but actually increases desertification and soil erosion on these lands. “The conclusion, overwhelmingly, is that his statements are not supported by empirical evidence and experimental work, and that in crucial respects his techniques do more harm than good.” Many others have questioned his research methods, His ideas, while interesting, are not backed up by scientific evidence. Many of Savory’s supporters think of his ideas as profound and thought-provoking, however he lacks support from mainstream science. Do these changes in landscape really represent the results of holistic management, or is there something else affecting the results? The idea of increasing cattle and livestock, on fragile, desert lands, is risky without real scientific evidence that it will actually work.
Check out his TED talk on holistic management for yourself. (Link below)
Now I’m not saying that Savory’s ideas are wrong , but it’s important to look at information we are given with a critical eye. The issues of desertification and land degradation are daunting; and it would be nice if they could be solved with one simple, revolutionary solution. But sometimes, when something sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.