Holistic Management, Third Edition: A Commonsense Revolution to Restore Our Environment

Holistic Management, Third Edition: A Commonsense Revolution to Restore Our Environment

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Fossil fuels and livestock grazing are often targeted as major culprits behind climate change and desertification. But Allan Savory, cofounder of the Savory Institute, begs to differ. The bigger problem, he warns, is our mismanagement of resources. Livestock grazing is not the problem; it’s how we graze livestock. If we don’t change the way we approach land management, irreparable harm from climate change could continue long after we replace fossil fuels with environmentally benign energy sources.

Holistic management is a systems-thinking approach for managing resources developed by Savory decades ago after observing the devastation of desertification in his native Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Properly managed livestock are key to restoring the world’s grassland soils, the major sink for atmospheric carbon, and minimizing the most damaging impacts on humans and the natural world. This book updates Savory's paradigm-changing vision for reversing desertification, stemming the loss of biodiversity, eliminating fundamental causes of human impoverishment throughout the world, and climate change. Reorganized chapters make it easier for readers to understand the framework for Holistic Management and the four key insights that underlie it. New color photographs showcase before-and-after examples of land restored by livestock.

This long-anticipated new edition is written for new generations of ranchers, farmers, eco- and social entrepreneurs, and development professionals working to address global environmental and social degradation. It offers new hope that a sustainable future for humankind and the world we depend on is within reach.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781610917438
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 11/10/2016
Edition description: Third Edition
Pages: 552
Sales rank: 439,671
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Allan Savory, cofounder of the Savory Institute, is a former wildlife biologist and farmer who conceived of and developed the Holistic Management approach to landscape management. Jody Butterfield is cofounder of the Savory Institute and a former journalist specializing in agriculture and the environment.

Read an Excerpt

Holistic Management

A Commonsense Revolution to Restore our Environment

By Allan Savory, Jody Butterfield


Copyright © 2016 Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-743-8


Managing Holistically

* * *

In 1948 I entered Plumtree School, a boarding school in the British tradition set in the African bushveld on the border of what was then Southern Rhodesia and Botswana. When not on the rugby or cricket fields we were encouraged to get out into the bush, a gesture of liberality that offset all my adolescent frustration with formal education. I became fanatic about the bush and its big game, and a passion to return to it drove me through a university education that qualified me for a Northern Rhodesian Game Department post at the age of twenty.

Once in the Game Department I began to realize that all I loved was doomed. Not for the commonly talked of reasons — poaching and overexploitation — but rather because of our own ignorance as professional bureaucrats. My colleagues did not want to admit to ignorance or to raise the questions I did about the environmental deterioration I was seeing everywhere — massive amounts of bare ground, deep gullies, dead vegetation, and dried-up rivers. It was not only destroying the wildlife we were meant to protect but would ultimately threaten all other life on our planet. I took on a new post as a research officer in the Southern Rhodesia Game Department but again faced the same challenges and eventually resigned to become an independent scientist free to seek knowledge and solutions from any field in any country.

I supported my growing family through a variety of additional occupations — farmer, game rancher, cattle rancher, management consultant — while also becoming a soldier during a long and bitter civil war, and a member of Parliament leading the opposition to the racist government of Ian Smith. The latter got me into hot water and I was forced into exile, where I continued my consulting work in the Americas. No matter what I was doing over these years the problems I encountered every day in every place stemmed ultimately from a deteriorating environment. I had quickly learned that poor land leads to poor people, social breakdown, political upheaval, and war. This was at its worst where humidity and rainfall were seasonal and livestock production was the chief occupation.

I had long believed, like most of my peers, that livestock were responsible for the destruction I was seeing in these areas, but new insights (described in chaps. 3–6), enabled me to see that the problem was the way we were managing livestock, not the animals themselves. Properly managed, livestock could be part of the solution. Flowing from this knowledge I was able to develop an entirely new approach to livestock management using a planning process that improved the land for wildlife, livestock, and people. But rather than exciting most of my peers, or even many of the ranchers who stood to benefit, the counterintuitive logic of using livestock herds to restore degraded land caused a ruckus. It has taken close to five decades to work through what started as vigorous opposition from many quarters to growing support for the ideas. This is due in no small part to the hundreds of people who worked with me initially, demonstrating their own successes and providing support and insights. Although some belonged to institutions opposed to the new ideas, they found ways to collaborate as individuals.

The Agriculture Problem

Opposition to the idea that properly managed livestock could restore degraded land led to a delay in the widespread application of Holistic Management that has been costly, as the amount of land turning to desert has only accelerated. Over these same decades agriculture as a whole has transitioned from a soil-maintaining enterprise to a soil-depleting enterprise based on chemical inputs, with the result that we are losing our ability to feed a growing population of nearly nine billion people.

Farmers are increasingly dependent on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which kill soil organisms and poison waterways. And anytime soil is exposed — through plowing, or through harvesting crops and clearing or burning the residue — soil organisms die and thus soils do too, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. When combined with the unsustainable techniques used for factory farming pigs, poultry, and cattle, it becomes apparent that modern agriculture is a major contributor to both desertification and climate change.

If we do not address the agricultural problem realistically and rapidly, irreparable climate change could continue long after we replace fossil fuels with environmentally benign energy sources. Each year, the earth loses seventy-five billion tons of soil to erosion, mostly from agricultural land. That's more than ten tons per human alive, or twenty times as much eroding soil as food required per human each year. Seventy percent of the grasslands — broadly defined as any environment where grasses play a critical role in stabilizing soil — are now considered degraded, or turning to desert. This has led to increasing hunger, poverty, violence, and tens of millions of "environmental refugees." As I will show in many of the following chapters, the land degradation figures I've cited are almost certainly much too conservative.

The appalling amount of soil destruction is silting up once highly productive coastal fisheries. The annual burning of billions of hectares of crop residues, grasslands, and forests is adding to the atmospheric pollution contributing to climate change. Soil destruction now accounts for thirty percent of the carbon dioxide emissions entering the atmosphere and biomass (vegetation) burning eighteen percent — nearly equaling the emissions from fossil fuels.

Reversing Climate Change

Healthy, living soils are key to reversing climate change because once we reduce the carbon dioxide coming from agriculture and fossil-fuel emissions, there will still be many billions of tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that need to be drawn down to Earth and safely stored if we are to maintain a livable climate.

The oceans have long played a role in drawing down atmospheric carbon dioxide, but when carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean carbonic acid forms. So much carbon dioxide has seeped into the oceans that they are now becoming increasingly acidic and inhospitable to a variety of sea life, especially shell-growing animals. Equally worrisome, the oceans' capacity to store carbon dioxide could diminish.

Planting trees is not a solution for desertification or climate change because only a few environments receive sufficient rainfall to sustain tree plantations or a full soil-covering canopy of leaves. And, using fossil-fuel-powered earth-moving techniques to bring water to them is not commercially viable or scalable. Trees do store carbon, just as all living things do, but then release it as carbon dioxide when they die. Soils, however, can hold carbon for millennia in the form of organic matter, which soil organisms create from carbon dioxide. The vast grassland soils, with the help of the grazing animals that evolved with them, can store the greatest amounts of carbon, which is why so many of the world's primary grain-growing regions, with their once deep, carbon-rich soils, are former grasslands.

We don't have time to waste in reforming agriculture and regenerating our soils to draw down the "legacy load" of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: in 2014 atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached 400 parts per million — 50 parts per million higher than scientists believe is safe for human life. Fortunately, a growing number of farmers working human-scale, rather than industrial-scale, farms are showing us the way, and ranchers and pastoralists are demonstrating what is possible on the world's grasslands.

A Sustainable Economy

Setting aside the urgency of climate change for a moment, consider the economic importance of establishing a sound and sustainable agriculture. Agriculture made civilization possible. The domestication of crop and livestock species enabled farmers to create surpluses. This freed people to pursue activities that led to the development of cities and all their amenities. Without agriculture we could not have an orchestra, museum, university — or even a city. Agriculture was once the cornerstone of every city's economy.

Although we've lost sight of the fact today, the only basis for an economy that can sustain a community or nation is derived from photosynthesis — the process through which green, growing plants convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into the carbohydrates and sugars that feed all terrestrial and most aquatic life. Healthy, regenerating soils can grow more plants that can convert more sunlight to food, and keep on doing so. Soils rendered lifeless by synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and practices that keep soils exposed, will at some point no longer be able to grow plants, nor store the water they depend upon. The mineral resources we so prize — coal, oil, gold, and diamonds — are nonrenewable and cannot feed and clothe people; they could never become the basis of a self-sustaining economy.

Two Management Frameworks

In the 1970s, as farmers and ranchers began to demonstrate just how effective livestock could be at restoring degraded land, I realized, as chapter 3 explains, that if we focused only on land restoration, we would not achieve lasting change. We had to keep a steady eye as well on the financial soundness of our efforts, and the well-being of the people involved. And this was no simple task. It led me to see the need for a basic framework to help guide us through the complex situations we were attempting to manage, and I enlisted many others in its development — clients, students, fans, and detractors.

Only after developing what became the Holistic Management framework, did I realize that we already were using a framework, one that appears to be genetically embedded in all tool-using animals but is not holistic in nature, nor successful at guiding the management of the environment that sustains us. It's helpful to look at this embedded framework first because the holistic framework builds on it.

The Genetically Embedded Framework

There was a common denominator in our management failures. This was tied to how we decided what actions to take. Something was faulty, and it had been faulty for a very long time. But where was it at fault, and how were we to find out? The answer doesn't become apparent until you first examine how we make the decisions that inform our actions.

Fundamentally, we use a process common to all tool-using animals:

• We have an objective (or goal, vision, mission).

• To achieve that objective we apply one or more of the tools available to us.

• We decide which tool to use and how to use it, based on whether or not we think it can do the job and meet our objective.

For example, a hungry otter has an objective: break open a clamshell; he uses a simple tool — technology, in the form of a stone — to do so, based on past experience, or what he learned from his mother. Or, the president of the United States declares an objective: to put a man on the moon within a decade (before the Soviets achieve it). He and his team use the same tool — technology — but various and more sophisticated forms of it, and base their choices on research and expert advice, past experience, cost, and so on.

It's the same process, or framework, in both cases; only the degree of sophistication varies. For humans, who, unlike other tool-using animals, can create visions beyond the simplest objectives, the process has been wildly successful: we have indeed put a man on the moon. But this framework has also led to big trouble: we're destroying life on our own planet at an alarming rate.

So, there are a few things we've added to this genetically embedded management framework, as shown (in bold) in table 1–1. With these additions, the Holistic Management framework helps ensure that we succeed in our aims while beginning to restore our ailing planet.

The Context

As used in table 1–1, context refers to the reason we want to do something, and there always is one, even if we're not conscious of it. In the previous examples, the context for the otter was "hunger"; for the U.S. president the context was "competition with the USSR for national prestige." In both cases the context was simple, as it has always been for our objectives and the actions we take to achieve them. Commonly, the context is related to a need or desire — we want a profit, to create something, to achieve more than someone else — or to a problem that needs fixing — brush is invading our pasture, there's a gas leak in the house, we're running short of cash. But when we are attempting to manage anything, and especially when managing land, people, and finances together, a simple context is too narrow, and we tend to overlook vital aspects that a larger context would encompass. So we now create a holistic context (covered in chap. 9) that describes how we want our lives to be in the whole we manage and the environment and behaviors that will sustain that quality of life for future generations. There is no mention of problems; the holistic context is a reflection of what lies beyond them.

The Tools Available

All the creativity, money, or labor we expend to influence our environment has to be applied through one or more tools, which is why tool using defines us as a species. For millennia we used sticks and stones — technology — as our first tool, and we barely impacted our environment. Once we also added fire to the toolbox that changed. Fire enabled us to dramatically impact whole landscapes and to develop increasingly sophisticated technology as we moved through the copper, bronze, and iron ages and into today's society, driven by advanced technology. Other than technology and fire, the only other tool we've applied to managing our environment at large is rest, or nondisturbance, to restore biodiversity.

None of these tools in and of themselves can be relied upon to regenerate the world's soils, which has to be done through biological rather than chemical means, not only because it is a biological issue but also due to the nature and scale of the challenge. Thus we now add a fourth tool — living organisms, covered in chapters 21 through 23. In perennially humid environments, the cycle of life — birth, growth, death, decay — functions well in the absence of large herding animals. In seasonally humid environments, which experience prolonged periods of little or no growth during the year due to dryness or cold, the vegetation life cycle is impeded in the absence of significant numbers of large herding animals. So in these environments we utilize large animals to help restore or enhance ecosystem functioning. The seasonally humid, or brittle, environments, described in chapter 4, encompass nearly two-thirds of Earth's landmass and include most of the world's grasslands. They evolved with large herds of wild grazers whose behavior in the presence of pack-hunting predators had a dramatic effect on soils and soil life, described in chapter 5. It is this behavior that I observed in my early days in some of the wildest areas left in Africa, and that I realized livestock could be managed to mimic.


Excerpted from Holistic Management by Allan Savory, Jody Butterfield. Copyright © 2016 Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Part 1:  Introduction 
            1          Managing Holistically
Part 2:  Four Key Insights
            2          Introduction: The Power of Paradigms
            3          Nature Functions in Wholes and Patterns
            4          Viewing Environments a Whole New Way
            5          The Predator-Prey Connection to Land Health
            6          Timing is Everything
7          A New Management Framework
Part 3:  The Holistic Context 
            8          Defining the Whole:  What Are You Managing?
            9          Creating the Context for Your Management   
Part 4:  The Ecosystem That Sustains Us All 
10        Introduction: The Four Fundamental Processes That Drive Our Ecosystem
11        Water Cycle: The Circulation of Civilization's Life Blood
12        Mineral Cycle: The Circulation of Life-Sustaining Nutrients
            13        Community Dynamics: The Ever-Changing Patterns in the Development of Living Communities
14        Energy Flow: The Flow of Fuel That Animates All Life
Part 5:  The Tools We Use to Manage Our Ecosystem  
15        Introduction: From Stone-Age Spears to Genetic Engineering
16        Money and Labor: One or Both of These Tools Is Always Required
17        Human Creativity: Key to Using All Tools Effectively
18        Technology: The First and Most Used Tool
19        Fire: An Ancient Tool Tied to Ancient Beliefs
20        Rest: The Most Misunderstood Tool
21        Living Organisms: Biological Tools for Solving Management Challenges
22        Animal Impact: A Tool for Regenerating Soils and Shaping Landscapes
23        Grazing:  A Tool for Enhancing Plant and Animal Health and Productivity      
Part 6:  Holistic Decision Making
24        Introduction: Selecting Appropriate Actions
25        Cause and Effect: Stop the Blows to Your Head Before You Take the Aspirin
26        Weak Link: The Strength of a Chain Is That of Its Weakest Link
27        Marginal Reaction: Getting the Biggest Bang for Your Buck
28        Gross Profit Analysis: Bringing in the Most Money for the Least Additional Cost 
            29        Energy/Money, Source and Use: Using the Most Appropriate Forms in the Most Constructive Way
30        Sustainability: Generating Lasting Wealth 
31        Gut Feel: Finalizing Your Decision
Part 7:  Guidelines for Using the Management Tools
32        Introduction: Lessons Learned in Practice
33        Time: When to Expose and Re-expose Plants and Soils to Animals
34        Stock Density and Herd Effect: Using Animals to Enliven Soils and Enhance Landscapes
35        Cropping: Practices That More Closely Mimic Nature 
36        Burning: When and How to Burn, and What to Do Before and After
            37        Population Management: Look to Age Structure Rather than Numbers, Communities Rather than Single Species  
Part 8: Procedures and Processes Unique to Holistic Management
38        Introduction:  Departing From the Conventional
39        Holistic Financial Planning: Generating Lasting Wealth
            40        Holistic Land Planning: Designing the Ideal Layout of Facilities for a Grazing Operation
            41        Holistic Planned Grazing: Getting Animals to the Right Place, at the Right Time, and with the Right Behavior 
42        Creating Sound Policies
43        Orienting Research to Management Needs
Part 9:  Completing the Feedback Loop 
44        Monitoring and Controlling Your Plans to Keep Management Proactive
Part 10:  Conclusion                                                                     
45        A Commonsense Revolution to Restore our Environment
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