Allan Savory’s Holistic Management and Holistic Planned Grazing

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Daniel Christian Wahl:

"Starting in the 1960s, the wildlife biologist Allan Savory developed one particularly promising methodology of regenerative agriculture that could be a game-changer for climate change mitigation. Holistic management and its associated technique of ‘holistic planned grazing’ are based on a systems thinking approach that mimics nature. Savory’s ‘Holistic Management’ is “a Whole Farm/Ranch Planning System that helps farmers, ranchers, and land stewards better manage agricultural resources in order to reap sustainable environmental, economic and social benefits”.

The four cornerstones of this practice are Holistic Financial Planning to “make a healthy profit”; Holistic Grazing Planning to manage the effects of resting the land combined with periodic disruption by grazers to improve “land health and animal health”; Holistic Land Planning to help “design the ideal property plan”; and Holistic Biological Monitoring using simple techniques for feedback on land health and productivity (Holistic Management International, 2015).

“Holistic Management teaches people about the relationship between large herds of wild herbivores and the grasslands and then helps people to develop strategies for managing herds of domestic livestock to mimic those wild herds to heal the land. […] Holistic Management embraces and honours the complexity of nature, and uses nature’s model to bring practical approaches to land management and restoration.” — The Savory Institute (2015)

In the last 40 years more than 10,000 people have received training in ‘Holistic Management’ and globally there are now over 40 million acres managed using this system (Savory Institute, 2014). With long-term field trials on four continents, some of them running since the 1970s, the effectiveness of holistic management is well established.

In a 2013 white paper the institute suggested that holistic planned grazing could be applied to approximately 5 billion hectares of the world’s degraded grassland soils in order to restore them to optimal health and thereby sequester more than 10 gigatons of atmospheric carbon annually into the soil’s organic matter, “thereby lowering greenhouse gas concentrations to pre-industrial levels in a matter of decades. It also offers a path towards restoring agricultural productivity, providing jobs for thousands of people in rural communities, supplying high quality protein for millions, and enhancing wildlife habitat and water resources” (2013: 3). There is still some scientific debate about these claims and they are now being evaluated through research and field trials.

I regard holistic management as an excellent example of biomimicry at the ecosystems level. Its practice is adapted to the uniqueness of place and based on both scientific principles and local knowledge. Practitioners intervene in the dynamics of degraded grassland ecosystems by substituting absent natural grazers (whose absence is often attributable to past farming practices) with domesticated grazers like cattle, sheep, goats or bison, rotating them over the landscape in patterns that mimic the natural disturbance and fertilization caused by roaming herds of herbivores.

Holistic Management influences natural ecosystem processes to support the conversion of solar energy by plants (efficient energy flow), improve the interception and retention of precipitation by the soil (effective water cycle), optimize the nutrient cycles (effective mineral cycle), and promote “ecosystem biodiversity with more complex mixtures and combinations of desirable plant species, otherwise known as community dynamics”.

We are starting to (re)learn how to act as a responsible keystone species and participate appropriately in the emergence of increased health, bioproductivity and vibrant diversity in the ecosystems we inhabit. Regeneration means promoting diversity and resilience above and below ground, restoring watersheds and replenishing aquifers. Regenerative agriculture nurtures symbiotic inter- and intra-species relationships to support systemic health. It is an example of salutogenic (health-generating) design. The dynamics of healthy ecosystems are the measure, model and mentor of regenerative agriculture, which promises to feed humanity while restoring ecosystems, regulating climate and growing the resource base of regional bio-economies." (