Brown Revolution

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Summary

"Savory's work has far wider implications than desertification alone. His approach contains the elements of a new approach to agriculture. The Green Revolution was based on high input, industrial agriculture. It involved massive inputs of petro-chemicals and herbicides, monoculture cropping, excessive use of water, and confinement animal feeding operations. Yes, it increased global food production tremendously; but, charges Savory, "the Green Revolution has not been characterized by ecological or social integrity—quite the contrary. Horrific soil erosion, dead zones at the mouths of rivers, severely depleted levels of biodiversity, impoverished rural communities, soil fertility loss, and oxidation of soil organic matter, have been exacerbated by the Green Revolution". Savory promotes the necessity of a new 'Brown Revolution', based on the regeneration of covered, organically rich, biologically thriving soil, and brought to fruition via millions of human beings returning to the land and the production of food."


Discussion

From the Green Revolution to the Brown Revolution

John Thackara on the success of Operation Hope [1]:


Context:

"A quarter of the land area of Earth is turning into desert. Three quarters of the planet's savannas and grasslands are degrading. And because the main activity on rangelands is grazing livestock, on which 70% of the world's poorest people depend, grassland deterioration therefore causes widespread poverty. Enormous research efforts have been made to understand and reverse desertification but, until recently, and with one remarkable exception, to no avail. That exception, Operation Hope, has transformed 6500 acres of of parched and degraded grasslands in Zimbabwe into lush pastures replete with ponds and flowing streams."


Excerpt:

"The Green Revolution was based on high input, industrial agriculture. It involved massive inputs of petro-chemicals and herbicides, monoculture cropping, and confinement animal feeding operations. It increased global food production tremendously - but it has also tended severely to degrade its ecological and socio-cultural capital base in the process.

“The Green Revolution has not been characterized by ecological or social integrity—quite the contrary”. Charges Savory: “Horrific soil erosion, dead zones at the mouths of rivers, severely depleted levels of biodiversity, impoverished rural communities, soil fertility loss, and oxidation of soil organic matter - all these have been exacerbated by the Green Revolution”.

The good news, according to Savory, is that this can all be reversed - indeed, this is what Holistic Management practitioners have been engaged for the past 40 years. “We posit the necessity of a new ‘Brown Revolution’, based on the regeneration of covered, organically rich, biologically thriving soil, and brought to fruition via millions of human beings returning to the land and the production of food.

"Viewed holistically biodiversity loss, desertification, and climate change, are not three issues, they are one, he continues. “Without reversing desertification, climate change cannot adequately be addressed.

“The more humid and biologically productive regions of the world need to develop agricultural models based on small, biodiverse farms that imitate the natural, multi-tiered vegetation structures of those environments. This is where most of the grain, fruits, nuts, and vegetables will be produced, as well as most of the dairy products, and some of the meat".


* Wholes, not parts

Although Savory describes some of his insights as common sense, he has spent fifty years battling to make the scientific case for his approach, too. For most of this half-century, he has had to contend with intense opposition from maintream range science researchers 'proving' it does not work.

After fifty years during which the very idea of using increased livestock to reverse desertification has been rejected, a growing number of scientists now accept that the results claimed by Savory are supported by rigorous data, and that they therefore deserve to drive land use, agriculture, and development policy.

Savory’s acceptance by the mainstream is part of a profound shift in scientific thinking. He is no longer alone in realizing that transfers of energy and nutrients are innate to a ecosystem ecology. Savory's concusions are confirmed by biological studies of plants, animals, terrestrial, aquatic, and marine ecosystems and, crucially, how they interact with each other.

This new approach to science has been called holism, or emergentism - the idea that things can have properties as a whole that are not explainable from the sum of the parts that reductionist science, at its crudest, studies in isolation.

The principle of holism was concisely summarized by Aristotle in the Metaphysics: "The whole is more than the sum of its parts".

Jonathan Teller-Elsberg, a writer turning permaculture designer, explained to me why, in his view, Savory’s approach has resisted so long by the scientific mainstream. “Mainstream natural resource management systems were in essence designed to avoid or bypass complexity. They coined the term "best management practice" – but this was a a misnomer. What may be the right thing to do on a farm this year may not be next year - let alone on a different farm”.

Although their motive was good, complexity—social, environmental and economic—is the implacable reality for management and thus cannot be bypassed or avoided", Teller-Elsberg continued. "It has to be embraced through holistic planning processes”.


* Land is not linear

One of the obstacles Savory has encountered is the tendency of modern humans to make conscious decisions – planning and design, for example - in a linear way.

As individuals, we tend to be motivated a clear objective or goal. And in groups, we have created complex global organizations whose design is influenced by the same linear thinking. We manage these organizations by designing missions, or visions, that give the collective entity something to aim for in its (linear) journey forwards.

“We have been successful with developments of technology, but have failed over and over again to deal with complexity in nature and human society” says Savory. The trouble, he believes, stems from our attempts to control a world that is holistic, and fundamentally non-linear, in its makeup.

This rational, control-seeking approach makes it almost impossible to deal with such wicked problems as biodiversity loss, desertification, and climate change.

The limits of linear management are especially true of land. Says Savory: “the US enjoys the greatest concentration of scientists and wealth ever known in one nation – but she exports more eroding soil annually than all her other exports combined”.


* Wealth = soil

The only wealth that can sustain any community or nation is derived from the photosynthetic process, he says. “Wealth, ultimately, means soil. And yet ever-larger farms are said to be ‘economic’ when this is simply not true. The US claims to be feeding the world when the true position is that the US farmers are bleeding the world with their topsoil losses”.

Land - whether rangeland or cropland – cannot be managed like the production line in a car factory. “Land alone is no more manageable than is the hydrogen or oxygen alone in water” says Savory.


* Conversations, not plans

It follows from working in whole situations – when our actions are guided by complex realities, rather than by rational and abstract concepts – that what Savory terms the the “holistic goal” must change - continously.

Otherwise stated: conversations are more important than plans. In a healthy community, discussion of its holistic goals never ends. A healthy community does not aspire to create the perfect plan and then implement it; rather, the idea is to grow and develop holistic goals over time.

Each and every managed whole - people, land, money - is unique. Therefore, just as one cannot step into the same river twice because it is flowing, Holistic Management does not permit replication.

Savory traces many of his ideas back to 1924 when Jan Christian Smuts wrote Holism and Evolution’ “Smuts believed scientists would never understand nature until we understood that nature functioned in wholes and patterns of great complexity” recalls Savory; “unlike the mechanistic world view in which nature is viewed as a complicated machine with interconnecting parts. Savory is confident today that Buckminster Fuller’s thinking would have resonated with that of Smuts.

The issues raised by Operation Hope also resonate with a recent debate in the Transition Towns movement.Brian Davey, from Transiton Nottigham recently asked, “what constitutes a ‘plan’?”.

“A plan is a way of attempting to shape the future” writes Davey, “yet there is also an explicit ethos in the Transition Movement of 'letting things go where they will'. 'Letting things go where they will' implies accepting that things will unfold in unexpected ways, and being flexible to that, taking up unforseen opportunities as they arise and being prepared to abandon unrealistic aspirations along the route.

"Instead of shaping the future, this is about being prepared to be shaped by the future”.

For Allan Savory, too, holistic management is about the means rather than the ends. The ends - the goals - are almost incidental. “You might even say that the means are the ends”, he reflects; “whatever you think your goal is, the true goal is to have a process for making decisions on an ongoing basis. After all, life is an endless, ongoing process. Any so-called goal is merely one step along an infinite path”." (http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2010/05/whole_whole_on.php)