Last month Holistic Management—the land stewardship model in which livestock serve as tools for restoration, developed by wildlife biologist Allan Savory—became a global movement. The first Savory Institute International Conference, held at the end of June in Boulder, Colorado, brought together ranchers, scientists, investors, and environmental activists from more than ten nations to grapple with how to scale up Holistic Management around the world.
In his opening remarks, Savory called agriculture a “destructive” force that “produc[es] far more eroding soil than food”. However, he stressed that we already know how to shift to regenerative means of food and fiber production in a way that improves land and returns carbon and water to the soil, the lack of which inevitably leads to desertification. As he did in his TED talk, he said that reviving the world’s grasslands—which, he noted, has been proven can be done with Holistic Planned Grazing—is the key to meeting the formidable challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and the multiple social and political crises that ensue when land no longer sustains life.
The two-day event announced the launch of the Savory Institute Hub network, locally-led centers of collaboration, education and action around the world. A dozen Hub candidates gave presentations, and it was fascinating to see the variety of ways Holistic Management is used around the world. Speaking for the Nordic Hub, Jorgen Andersson of Sweden said in his region “19 of every 20 animals are gone” compared with previous eras. The same with farmers: “It’s kind of lonely,” he shrugged. He said his hub sees Holistic Planned Grazing as a vehicle for restoring boreal heaths now dominated by scrubby brush as well as reconnecting people with the land and with food.
Ricardo Fenton, of Argentina, said his company, Ovis XXI, a consortium of 160 sheep farms in Patagonia, has allied with The Nature Conservancy and Patagonia, Inc., to restore 15 million acres of the pampas in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. As of August, all Patagonia’s merino baseline layer products will be sourced from holistically raised sheep from Ovis XXI ranches. The goal is to “inform…the customer that their buying decisions make a difference, and give a market reward to people who are improving the land,” says Fenton.
Hub leaders from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mexico, Spain, Turkey and the U.S. (Washington State and New England) also described Holistic Management programs that address the environmental, economic and social concerns of their regions.
Not all attendees have been herding cattle or working the land; many were seeking to connect with the passion and optimism that’s palpable among the Holistic Management community. Christopher Meyer, 31, a magazine editor, said he signed up for the conference after seeing Savory’s TED presentation. The talk “spoke to me in a way that made me realize how deeply we’re ignoring probably THE most important issue of our times,” he said. “I have a good job and a lifestyle that I enjoy in Los Angeles, but does that really matter compared to what might happen to all of us in a decade? So I decided to attend the conference to find out how I, as a pale city boy with an English degree and zero experience with cattle, could help.”