Hypothetical scenario: you arrive at my home and the living room is a wreck. (This is very plausible, by the way.) Picture it totally trashed. Sofa springs are jutting out, dirty plates are crawling with ants, toys are strewn everywhere. You hear that I have ten children (not so plausible, but go with it for a moment) and you nod understandingly, “Ah. That’s the problem. This woman has too many children. That’s why the living room is a mess.” Most people would come to that conclusion, as well. But not Allan Savory. He would not blame the children. He would blame the management of the children. In other words, the children are not actually responsible for the mess; large families do not necessarily have to live in chaos. The responsibility falls on me to train my children properly so that they don’t mess up our living environment. This is a simple illustration to explain the concept of “holistic management.”
Before heading to Zimbabwe to meet with wildlife biologist, author, and speaker Allan Savory, I picked up his tome “Holistic Management.” When I say “tome,” I’m not kidding. Let's just say that this book is the opposite of a light summer read. The point I’m trying to make is that I was struggling to grasp what holistic management really meant. I knew it had to do with saving the earth by restoring its grasslands (about 70% have been degraded), but beyond that, I couldn't quite "get it."
But I knew this much: Allan did get it and does get it. His Savory Institute has hubs all around the world committed to this concept. It goes beyond permaculture techniques (though these are good) and organic fields (also good). And it’s having fantastic results with land and communities that are revitalizing, growing, and thriving.
Allan came to this holistic approach to the land after much trial and error. Decades ago, he thought (as many scientists did at the time) that animals were causing land degradation and that reducing their numbers would resuscitate the land. So they killed thousands of elephants in Africa. We’re talking significant numbers—to the tune of 40,000 elephants. And then, to their dismay, they discovered that they were wrong. The land did not improve.
Allan had the humility and wisdom to go back to square one to determine the root of the problem. (Some scientists did not do this, by the way, and they are still culling animals!) Anyway, Allan dug deep and found that we actually need more animals (not less), since they have a critical role in revitalizing land. Animals disturb the ground with their hooves, and leave urine and manure to fertilize it, and thus help stimulate new growth. So the crux of the problem with land degradation (also known as “desertification”), again, is not the animals themselves, but, rather, how they are managed.
I’ve seen the fruit of this holistic approach first hand this week at the Africa Centre for Holistic Management. Allan took me around the land and showed me “before” pictures (taken at fixed points) that I could easily contrast with the “after” landscape before me. The health and recovery of the land was obvious. I was eager to learn more. Over the course of several days, I peppered him with questions about this approach. asked about the response from the environmental and scientific communities, and much more. I met some of his staff members and community members in Zimbabwe who have seen holistic management successes in their villages and towns. In the process, I gained a greater understanding of holistic management for land, livestock, and even my day-to-day life.
Of course I plan on posting my conversations with Allan on the Wise Traditions podcast this summer! If you just can't wait, though, check out savory.global. Holistic management, I am convinced, is critical for the future of our planet!
Hilda Labrada Gore is the DC chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF). She is also the host of the WAPF-sponsored Wise Traditions podcast (on iTunes, Stitcher, and westonaprice.org). She is traveling in Zimbabwe and Kenya as part of the WAPF international project initiative.