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Farming: Allan Savory: biologist, Rhodesian game keeper, pioneer farm consultant

06 Sep 2019

“Look down at, not out over, the fields, if you want to find out what makes farming tick.

It’s the soil, stupid."

These words of Spencer Smith, a farmer in Reno, Nevada, sum up the Allan Savory story nicely. It is a story closely entwined with the growth of regenerative farming internationally, with Allan Savory’s contribution so well covered by Barry Estabrook in his article Meet Allan Savory, the Pioneer of Regenerative Agriculture, 3/8/2018.

If anyone was to own the mantel of pioneer of regenerative farming it would probably be Allan Savory, an 83-year-old Zimbabwean grazing consultant with a base in Zimbabwe and a branch of his Savory Institute for Holistic Management in Boulder, Colorado. His institute has the aim of restoring grasslands across the world. He has trained up to 15,000 farmers who farm a combined area of around 40 million acres of farmland around the world.

It began with a dreadful episode early in Allan’s life as a Game Keeper in what was then Rhodesia. Allan saw the degradation of the land by a local herd of elephants and he advocated for the culling of 40,000 of them to bring their population down to a manageable size. It didn’t work. In fact, the degradation sped up. Overgrazing wasn’t the problem.

The answer for Allan was in front of his eyes with the local African grasslands supporting enormous herds of wildebeest, elephants, zebras, ostrich, warthogs, rhinoceros and antelope of all shapes and sizes, working in herds and constantly on the move.

As a result of his keen observations of the African savanna, Allan advocates that ruminants be kept in tight herds on small sections of multi-species pasture and moved frequently, as soon as the forage has been lightly clipped, but not destroyed. The animals are not returned to that pasture until it has recovered completely.

Allan says that his practice of livestock management replicates and aims to restore an ancient cycle and he calls it ‘holistic farm management and planned grazing’. As an observation, it is livestock that are an essential part of the cycle, not crops, and the key is to have a wide range of grasses to boost the biodiversity of the animal feed and the soil organisms. Diversity is key.

Allan observes that grasses share carbon they have extracted from the air with beneficial fungi living on their roots. Soil-dwelling bacteria that draw their energy by consuming methane also thrive in this diverse environment. Allan insists that raising livestock in this manner is a practical way to sequester carbon and methane in the soil and that we all have a duty to educate the public, turning them from vilifying livestock to seeing them as the solution to both feeding the world with superior meat and reducing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

Today there are many farm and grazing consultants carrying on Savory’s work, educating farmers and helping them with their grazing plans, both here in New Zealand and around the world.

Here are links to two articles, Allan Savory’s TED Talk and another video on his life’s work:

  • Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change - Here
  • Running out of Time, Documentary on Holistic Farm Management - Here

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