Holistic management (agriculture)

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Holistic Management (from ὅλος holos, a Greek word meaning all, whole, entire, total) in agriculture is an approach to managing resources that was originally developed by Allan Savory[1] for grazing management.[2] Holistic Management has been likened to "a permaculture approach to rangeland management".[3] Holistic Management is a registered trademark of Holistic Management International (no longer associated with Allan Savory).


Holistic management describes a systems thinking approach to managing resources. Originally developed by Allan Savory, it is now being adapted for use in managing other systems with complex social, ecological and economic factors. Holistic planned grazing is similar to rotational grazing but differs in that it more explicitly recognizes and provides a framework for adapting to the four basic ecosystem processes: the water cycle,[4][5] the mineral cycle including the carbon cycle,[6][7][8][9][10] energy flow, and community dynamics (the relationship between organisms in an ecosystem),[11] giving equal importance to livestock production and social welfare. Holistic Management has been likened to "a permaculture approach to rangeland management".[3]


The Holistic Management decision-making framework uses six key steps to guide the management of resources:[12][1]

  1. Define in its entirety what you are managing. No area should be treated as a single-product system. By defining the whole, people are better able to manage. This includes identifying the available resources, including money, that the manager has at his disposal.
  2. Define what you want now and for the future. Set the objectives, goals and actions needed to produce the quality of life sought, and what the life-nurturing environment must be like to sustain that quality of life far into the future.
  3. Watch for the earliest indicators of ecosystem health. Identify the ecosystem services that have deep impacts for people in both urban and rural environments, and find a way to easily monitor them. One of the best examples of an early indicator of a poorly functioning environment is patches of bare ground. An indicator of a better functioning environment is newly sprouting diversity of plants and a return or increase of wildlife.
  4. Don't limit the management tools you use. The eight tools for managing natural resources are money/labor, human creativity, grazing, animal impact, fire, rest, living organisms and science/technology. To be successful you need to use all these tools to the best of your ability.
  5. Test your decisions with questions that are designed to help ensure all your decisions are socially, environmentally and financially sound for both the short and long term.
  6. Monitor proactively, before your managed system becomes more imbalanced. This way the manager can take adaptive corrective action quickly, before the ecosystem services are lost. Always assume your plan is less than perfect and use a feedback loop that includes monitoring for the earliest signs of failure, adjusting and re-planning as needed. In other words use a "canary in a coal mine" approach.

Four principlesEdit

Savory stated four key principles of Holistic Management® planned grazing, which he intended to take advantage of the symbiotic relationship between large herds of grazing animals and the grasslands that support them:[13]

  1. Nature functions as a holistic community with a mutualistic relationship between people, animals and the land. If you remove or change the behavior of any keystone species like the large grazing herds, you have an unexpected and wide-ranging negative impact on other areas of the environment.[13]
  2. It is absolutely crucial that any agricultural planning system must be flexible enough to adapt to nature’s complexity, since all environments are different and have constantly changing local conditions.[13]
  3. Animal husbandry using domestic species can be used as a substitute for lost keystone species. Thus when managed properly in a way that mimics nature, agriculture can heal the land and even benefit wildlife, while at the same time benefiting people.[13]
  4. Time and timing is the most important factor when planning land use. Not only is it crucial to understand how long to use the land for agriculture and how long to rest, it is equally important to understand exactly when and where the land is ready for that use and rest.[13]


Research is indicating that Holistic Planned Grazing holds potential in mitigating climate change, while building soil, increasing biodiversity, and reversing desertification.[14][15] This practice uses fencing and/or herders to restore grasslands.[16][17][18] Carefully planned movements of large herds of livestock mimic the processes of nature where grazing animals are kept concentrated by pack predators and forced to move on after eating, trampling, and manuring an area, returning only after it has fully recovered. This grazing method seeks to emulate what occurred during the past 40 million years as the expansion of grass-grazer ecosystems built deep, rich grassland soils, sequestering carbon, and consequently cooling the planet.[19]

The idea of holistic planned grazing was developed in the 1960s by Allan Savory, a wildlife biologist in his native Southern Rhodesia. Setting out to understand desertification in the context of the larger environmental movement, and influenced by the work of André Voisin,[20][21] he hypothesized that the spread of deserts, the loss of wildlife, and the resulting human impoverishment were related to the reduction of the natural herds of large grazing animals and, even more, the changed behavior of the few remaining herds.[22] Savory hypothesized further that livestock could be substituted for natural herds to provide important ecosystem services like nutrient cycling.[23][24] However, while livestock managers had found that rotational grazing systems can work for livestock management purposes, scientific experiments demonstrated it does not necessarily improve ecological issues such as desertification. As Savory saw it, a more comprehensive framework for the management of grassland systems — an adaptive, holistic management plan — was needed. For that reason Holistic Management has been used as a Whole Farm/Ranch Planning tool [1] In 1984, he founded the Center for Holistic Resource Management which became Holistic Management International. [2]

In many regions, pastoralism and communal land use are blamed for environmental degradation caused by overgrazing. After years of research and experience, Savory came to understand this assertion was often wrong, and that sometimes removing animals actually made matters worse. This concept is a variation of the trophic cascade, where humans are seen as the top level predator and the cascade follows from there.

Savory developed a management system that he claimed would improve grazing systems. Holistic planned grazing is one of a number of newer grazing management systems that aim to more closely simulate the behavior of natural herds of wildlife and have been shown to improve riparian habitats and water quality over systems that often led to land degradation, and be an effective tool to improve range condition for both livestock and wildlife.[4][5][25][26][27][28][29][30][31]


While originally developed as a tool for range land use[32] and restoring desertified land,[33] the Holistic Management system can be applied to other areas with multiple complex socioeconomic and environmental factors. One such example is integrated water resources management, which promotes sector integration in development and management of water resources to ensure that water is allocated fairly between different users, maximizing economic and social welfare without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.[34] Another example is mine reclamation.[35] A fourth use of Holistic Management® is in certain forms of no till crop production, intercropping, and permaculture.[3][36][37][38][39] Holistic Management has been acknowledged by the United States Department of Agriculture.[39][40] The most comprehensive use of Holistic Management is as a Whole Farm/Ranch Planning tool which has been used successfully by farmers and ranchers. For that reason, the USDA invested six years of Beginning Farmer/Rancher Development funding to use it to train beginning women farmers and ranchers. [3] [4]


There are several claims that evidence for Holistic Management is not based in science.[41][42][43][44] A paper by Richard Teague et al. claims that the different criticisms had examined rotational systems in general and not holistic planned grazing.[45][46]

In 2013 the Savory Institute published a response to some of their critics.[47] The same month Savory was a guest speaker with TED and gave a presentation titled "How to Fight Desertification and Reverse Climate Change".[48][49] RealClimate.org published a piece saying that Savory's claims that his technique can bring atmospheric carbon "back to pre-industrial levels" are "simply not reasonable."[50][51]

In his Ted Talk, Savory has claimed that holistic grazing could reduce carbon dioxide levels to pre-industrial levels in a span of 40 years, solving the problems caused by climate change. According to Skeptical science, "it is not possible to increase productivity, increase numbers of cattle and store carbon using any grazing strategy, never-mind Holistic Management [...] Long term studies on the effect of grazing on soil carbon storage have been done before, and the results are not promising.[...] Because of the complex nature of carbon storage in soils, increasing global temperature, risk of desertification and methane emissions from livestock, it is unlikely that Holistic Management, or any management technique, can reverse climate change.[52]"

According to a 2016 study published by the University of Uppsala, the actual rate at which improved grazing management could contribute to carbon sequestration is seven times lower than the claims made by Savory. The study concludes that Holistic Management cannot reverse climate change.[53] A study by the Food and Climate Research Network in 2017 has concluded that Savory's claims about carbon sequestration are "unrealistic" and very different from those issued by peer-reviewed studies.[54]


Savory received the 2003 Banksia International Award[55] and in 2010 the Africa Centre for Holistic Management in Zimbabwe, Operation Hope (a "proof of concept" project using Holistic Management) was named the winner of the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge for "recognizing initiatives which take a comprehensive, anticipatory, design approach to radically advance human well being and the health of our planet's ecosystems".[56][57] In addition, numerous Holistic Management practitioners have received awards for their environmental stewardship through using Holistic Management practices.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Sullivan, Preston. "Holistic Management: A Whole-Farm Decision Making Framework". The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service - ATTRA. National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  2. ^ Coughlin, Chrissy. "Allan Savory: How livestock can protect the land". GreenBiz. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Fairlie, Simon (2010). Meat: A Benign Extravagance. Chelsea Green Publishing. pp. 191–193. ISBN 9781603583251.
  4. ^ a b Weber, K T; Gokhale, B S. "Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho" (PDF). Elsevier. Journal of Arid Environments. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  5. ^ a b Teague, W R; S. L. Dowhowera; S.A. Bakera; N. Haileb; P.B. DeLaunea; D.M. Conovera (2011). "Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie". Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment. 141, Issues 3–4, May 2011, Pages 310–322 (3–4): 310–322. doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.03.009.
  6. ^ Schwartz, Judith D. "Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight?". Yale Environment 360. Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  7. ^ Sanjari G, Ghadiri H, Ciesiolka CAA, Yu B (2008). "Comparing the effects of continuous and time-controlled grazing systems on soil characteristics in Southeast Queensland" (PDF). Soil Research 46 (CSIRO Publishing), 348–358. Retrieved 7 April 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Fairlie, Simon. "Maximizing Soil Carbon Sequestration: Carbon Farming and Rotational Grazing". Mother Earth News August 21, 2012. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
  10. ^ "The First Millimeter: Healing the Earth". Santa Fe Productions. Archived from the original on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  11. ^ Archer, Steve, Fred E. Smeins. Grazing Management an ecological perspective edited by Rodney K Heitschmidt and Jerry W Stuth. p. Chapter 5.
  12. ^ Savory, Allan. "Putting Holistic Management In Place". Savory Institute. Archived from the original on 11 January 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
  13. ^ a b c d e Savory, Allan. "Principles of Holistic Management, Empowering Caretakers of the Land". Savory Institute. Archived from the original on 9 January 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
  14. ^ "Allan Savory: How to green the desert and reverse climate change." Archived 2013-04-03 at the Wayback Machine TED Talk, February 2013.
  15. ^ Thackara, John (June 2010). "Greener Pastures". Seed Magazine. Archived from the original on 2010-06-06.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  16. ^ Teague, W.R.; Dowhower, S.L.; Baker, S.A.; Haile, N.; DeLaune, P.B.; Conover, D.M. (2011). "Grazing Management Impacts on Vegetation, Soil Biota and Soil Chemical, Physical and Hydrological Properties in Tall Grass Prairie". Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 141 (3–4): 310–322. doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.03.009. Archived from the original on 2013-03-17. Retrieved 2013-04-02.
  17. ^ Weber, K.T.; Gokhale, B.S. (2011). "Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho". Journal of Arid Environments. 75 (5): 464–470. Bibcode:2011JArEn..75..464W. doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2010.12.009. Archived from the original on 2013-03-17. Retrieved 2013-04-02.
  18. ^ Sanjari, G; Ghadiri, H; Ciesiolka, CAA; Yu, B (2008). "Comparing the effects of continuous and time-controlled grazing systems on soil characteristics in Southeast Queensland". Soil Research. 46 (4): 348–358. doi:10.1071/sr07220. hdl:10072/21586. Archived from the original on 2013-05-13. Retrieved 2013-04-02.
  19. ^ Retallack, Gregory (2001). "Cenozoic Expansion of Grasslands and Climatic Cooling" (PDF). The Journal of Geology. 109 (4): 407–426. Bibcode:2001JG....109..407R. doi:10.1086/320791. S2CID 15560105. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-05-06.
  20. ^ Voisin, André (1 December 1988) [1959]. Grass Productivity. Island Press. ISBN 978-0933280649.
  21. ^ Voisin, André; Lecomte, Antoine (1962). Rational grazing, the meeting of cow and grass: a manual of grass productivity. C. Lockwood LTD, London.
  22. ^ Coughlin, Chrissy (11 March 2013). "Allan Savory: How livestock can protect the land". GreenBiz. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  23. ^ Retallack, Gregory. "Cenozoic Expansion of Grasslands and Climatic Cooling" (PDF). The University of Chicago. The Journal of Geology. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  24. ^ Voisin, André (1 December 1988) [1959]. Grass Productivity. Island Press. ISBN 978-0933280649..
  25. ^ Dagget, Dan ; with photography by Tom Bean (2005). Gardeners of Eden : rediscovering our importance to nature. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Thatcher Charitable Trust. ISBN 9780966622911.
  26. ^ Schwartz, Judith D. (June 2011). "Greener Pastures". Conservation Magazine. University of Washington. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  27. ^ Salatin, Joel. "Tall grass mob stocking" (PDF). Acres USA May 2008 vol 8 no 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 January 2012. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  28. ^ A. M. Strauch et al. Impact of livestock management on water quality and streambank structure in a semi-arid, African ecosystem, Journal of Arid Environments 73 (2009) 795–803
  29. ^ Undersander, Dan; et al. "Grassland birds: Fostering habitat using rotational grazing" (PDF). University of Wisconsin-Extension. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  30. ^ Coppedge, Clay. "Cattle and Quail: Management requires a plan". Country World Friday, 31 August 2012. Archived from the original on 17 June 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  31. ^ Ferguson, Bruce; et al. (18 June 2013). "Sustainability of holistic and conventional cattle ranching in the seasonally dry tropics of Chiapas, Mexico". Agricultural Systems. 120: 38–48. doi:10.1016/j.agsy.2013.05.005.
  32. ^ K. T. Weber, B.S. Gokhale, Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho, Journal of Arid Environments 75 (2011) 464-470
  33. ^ J. N. Clatworthy, Results of the Botanical Analyses in the Charter Trial, Rhodesian Branch of the South African Society of Animal Production, Zimbabwe Agricultural Journal 1984
  34. ^ Nilsson, C.; Renöfält, B. Malm (2008). "Linking flow regime and water quality in rivers: a challenge to adaptive catchment management". Ecology and Society. 13 (2): 18. doi:10.5751/es-02588-130218.
  35. ^ Dagget, Dan. "Convincing Evidence". Man in Nature. Archived from the original on 6 March 2001. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  36. ^ Leu, Andre. "Mitigating Climate Change With Soil Organic Matter in Organic Production Systems" (PDF). Trade and environment review 2013, Commentary V pp.22-32. UNCTAD. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  37. ^ Bradley, Kirsten (7 December 2010). "Why Pasture Cropping is such a Big Deal". Milkwood. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  38. ^ Tallman, Susan. "No-Till Case Study, Richter Farm: Cover Crop Cocktails in a Forage-Based System". National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. NCAT-ATTRA. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  39. ^ a b Fears, Robert. "NRCS Adopts Holistic Management" (PDF). Lands of Texas Magazine. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  40. ^ Terry, Quenna. "NRCS in Texas presents at Holistic Management Seminars". USDA-NRCS News room. Retrieved 5 April 2013. "NRCS supports HMI in their efforts to provide sustainable resource training to women producers," said Susan Baggett, NRCS state resource conservationist.
  41. ^ Monbiot, George (4 August 2014). "Eat more meat and save the world: the latest implausible farming miracle". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-10-28.
  42. ^ Briske, D. D. "Origin, Persistence, and Resolution of the Rotational Grazing Debate: Integrating Human Dimensions Into Rangeland Research" (PDF). Rangeland Ecol Manage 64:325–334. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
  43. ^ D. D. Briske, J. D. Derner, J. R. Brown, S. D. Fuhlendorf, W. R. Teague, K. M. Havstad, R. L. Gillen, A. J. Ash, W. D. Willms, (2008) Rotational Grazing on Rangelands: Reconciliation of Perception and Experimental Evidence. Rangeland Ecology & Management: January 2008, Vol. 61, No. 1, pp. 3-17.
  44. ^ Briske, D.D.; Derner, J.D.; Brown, J.R.; Fuhlendorf, S.D.; Teague, W.R.; Havstad, K.M.; Gillen, R.L.; Ash, A.J.; Willms, W.D. (2008). "Rotational Grazing on Rangelands: Reconciliation of Perception and Experimental Evidence". Rangeland Ecology & Management. 61: 3–17. doi:10.2111/06-159R.1. hdl:10150/642920. S2CID 30969297.
  45. ^ Teague, Richard; Provenza, Fred; Norton, Brien; Steffens, Tim; Barnes, Matthew; Kothmann, Mort; Roath, Roy (2008). "Benefits of Multi-Paddock Grazing Management on Rangelands: Limitations of Experimental Grazing Research and Knowledge Gaps". In Schroder, H.G. (ed.). Grasslands: Ecology, Management and Restoration. New York: Nova Science Publishers. pp. 41–80. ISBN 978-1-60692-023-7.
  46. ^ Skovlin, Jon (August 1987). "Southern Africa's Experience with Intensive Short Duration Grazing". Rangelands. 9 (4): 162–167. JSTOR 3900978.
  47. ^ "Holistic Management Research Portfolio" (PDF). Savory Institute. March 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  48. ^ "How to fight desertification and reverse climate change".
  49. ^ Maughan, Ralph (2013-03-18). "Alan Savory gives a popular and very misleading TED talk". The Wildlife News. Retrieved 2015-02-03.
  50. ^ "Cows, Carbon and the Anthropocene: Commentary on Savory TED Video". RealClimate. Retrieved 2018-10-28.
  51. ^ Nordborg, Maria (June 2016) Holistic management – a critical review of Allan Savory's grazing method. Uppsala: SLU/EPOK – Centre for Organic Food & Farming & Chalmers
  52. ^ "New rebuttal to the myth 'Holistic Management can reverse Climate Change'".
  53. ^ Nordborg, M. (2016). Holistic Management – a critical review of Allan Savory's grazing method. Uppsala: SLU/EPOK – Centre for Organic Food & Farming & Chalmers.
  54. ^ Grazed and Confused?, Food Climate Research Network, 2017, p.64
  55. ^ "2003 award winners". Banksia Environmental Foundation. Archived from the original on 5 November 2003.
  56. ^ Thackara, John. "Greener Pastures". Seed Magazine. Archived from the original on 6 June 2010. Retrieved 5 April 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  57. ^ Rothstein, Joe. "Hang On, Planet Earth, Help Is On The Way". EIN News. Retrieved 5 April 2013.

Further readingEdit

  • Savory, Allan; Jody Butterfield (1998-12-01) [1988]. Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making (2nd ed.). Washington, D.C.: Island Press. ISBN 1-55963-487-1.
  • Adams, Ann (1998-12-01) [1999]. At Home with Holistic Management (2nd ed.). Albuquerque, NM: Holistic Management International. ISBN 978-0-9673941-0-7.
  • Hudak, Mike (2015-02-01). Comments on Allan Savory's Proposed Application of “Holistic Management” to Grasslands, Including Desert Grasslands, for the Purpose of Increasing Sequestration of Atmospheric Carbon. Revised 13 Nov 2013; 1 Feb 2015. Public letter to Sierra Club contains many online references critical of holistic agricultural management. 7 pages.
  • Nordborg, Maria (June 2016) Holistic management – a critical review of Allan Savory's grazing method. Uppsala: SLU/EPOK – Centre for Organic Food & Farming & Chalmers.

External linksEdit