Holistic management (agriculture)
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, the mineral cycle including the carbon cycle, energy flow, and community dynamics (the relationship between organisms in an ecosystem), giving equal importance to livestock production and social welfare. Holistic management has been likened to "a permaculture approach to rangeland management".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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, 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. Savory hypothesized further that livestock could be substituted for natural herds to provide important ecosystem services like nutrient cycling. 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.
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.
While originally developed as a tool for range land use and restoring desertified land, 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. Another example is mine reclamation. A fourth use of holistic management is in certain forms of no till crop production, intercropping, and permaculture. Holistic management has been acknowledged by the United States Department of Agriculture.
There are several claims that evidence for Holistic management is not based in science, but only anecdotal. A paper by Richard Teague et al. claims that that the different criticisms had examined rotational systems in general and not holistic planned grazing.
In 2013 the Savory Institute published a response to some of their critics. The same month Savory was a guest speaker with TED and gave a presentation titled "How to Fight Desertification and Reverse Climate Change". 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."
Savory received the 2003 Banksia International Award 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".
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"NRCS supports HMI in their efforts to provide sustainable resource training to women producers," said Susan Baggett, NRCS state resource conservationist.
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- Nordborg, Maria (June 2016) Holistic management – a critical review of Allan Savory's grazing method. Uppsala: SLU/EPOK – Centre for Organic Food & Farming & Chalmers
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- Savory, Allan; Jody Butterfield (1998-12-01) . 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) . 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.
- Savory Institute
- Holistic Management International