In today’s interview I get to speak with, Allan Savory, ecologist, environmentalist and the co-founder of Savory Institute, about how we need to use grazing animals and holistic management if we wish to restore (and prevent) desertification of land.
Allan is very passionate about preventing the spread of man-made desserts. In-fact he has devoted his life to solving the problem of why they occur, and how to reverse the damage of desertification.
In today’s interview, we get a chance to talk about the crucial role large grazing animals play in restoring and rejuvenating this arid, degraded land. We also discuss how, after making a monumental error early in his career, Allan learned a valuable lesson (listen to his popular TED talk to hear him talk more about his mistake with the elephants). Allan emphasizes that the commonly believed paradigm is wrong; grazing animals are not the problem, it is how we are managing them.
If you know someone who is interested in why ruminant animals like cattle and sheep are important for the health of our world, or how to reverse desertification of land by using a holistic farming method with grazing animals, this interview is for them.
I enjoyed this interview with Allan and really gained some valuable insights into the current problems with the way we manage agriculture. By looking deeper into the issue, Allan has highlighted the far reaching consequences of this problem; climate change, health problems, environmental degradation, economic concerns and immigration pressures are just examples. He urges us to stop focusing on dealing with the symptoms of desertification; if we deal with the root problem, in turn, they will also be resolved. Holistic management of livestock works and the before and after photos speak for themselves.
Special thanks to Allan for joining me on the show. Enjoy the episode!
Show Notes with Timestamp Links
Highlights of what we talk about during the interview:
Click on one of the timestamp links in the brackets to jump to that point in the interview audio[00:19] – Introducing, Allan Savory, one of the founders of the Savory Institute and the man behind a famous TED talk about how to fight man-made deserts that play a huge role in climate change. In the 1960’s he made a significant breakthrough in understanding what was causing the degradation of the world’s grassland ecosystems and has worked on six continents to develop sustainable solutions. [01:11] – This problem of man-made desserts is thousands of years old, and Allan was frustrated that no one was able to solve it. When he saw it happening in Senegal, he became determined to find a solution and pledged himself to devote his life to doing so. He shares what the real turning point was for him. [03:12] – Allan explains how he learned a key lesson from the mistake he made with the elephants (see his TED talk for more). This all stemmed from society’s deep-rooted belief that if there is damage to the land it means there are too many animals. However, no research supports this and in-fact removing the animals exacerbates the problem. [09:25] – What is the concept of resting the land? Allan explains how he was heavily criticised by some academics when he said that the only option left to mankind is to use livestock. [11:19] – To prevent desertification, we first need to understand why it is occurring. Allan explains the problem is having bare ground between plants. What causes bare ground? The two main causes are: fire and too few large grazing animals. [15:01] – We cannot correct this problem using the two tools available to us; technology and fire. Allan explains how the idea of resting the land works wonderfully for oceans, rivers, lakes and humid environments however, it causes desertification in brittle environments. [19:19] – Rather than just trying to manage the problem, Savory Institute aims to reverse the damage and regenerate the areas suffering from desertification by using increased numbers of livestock and the holistic planned grazing process (described in his TED talk). Allan guarantees this combination has yet to fail to result in the reversal of desertification. [21:03] – The before and after photos (see images here in the Biohackers Lab YouTube video interview ) speak for themselves, but some people are still reluctant to adopt this process. Allan explains the problem with demonstration farms/contrast photos and why he prefers to use no contrast photos. [26:03] – A non-brittle/humid environment is very forgiving and won’t turn to dessert. For those environments Allan also recommends Andre Voisin’s work as another option to Savory’s planning system; Voisin discovered some problems with rotational grazing and developed the rational grazing system. [28:58] – Allan addresses the three topical debates he believes are currently doing damage to mankind. The first is cows releasing methane, secondly how much carbon can be sequestered in grassland soils, and thirdly the vegan movement. [31:44] – It took 200 years since Capitan Lancaster demonstrated that giving lemon juice to sailors would prevent scurvy for us to accept it. Allan explains we are yet again looking at the same situation; it has been 50 years since we have known about holistic planned grazing and have demonstrated how to reverse desertification. [32:55] – He explains how the immigration to Europe cannot be dealt with without livestock as most immigrants are coming from areas suffering from the worst desertification. [34:24] – The UN recently announced 17 sustainable development goals; almost all of them addressing the symptoms of desertification rather than addressing the cause. Allan explains why this doesn’t work and how by fixing the cause we fix all the other related issues. [37:40] – Allan explains that what causes climate change is not the resources, it is the management. The way we currently manage livestock by putting cows into feedlots is not based on biological sciences. [39:08] – How can consumers help the situation? Consumers are the only people who can truly change things. Allan explains how change only happens when the public demands it. [41:39] – At the moment, mainstream agriculture is the most destructive industry in history. While there are people out there who are doing wonderful work, the real change will happen the moment policy changes; things will change quickly if the public demands it. [41:39] – Allan explains how feedlots were developed to market oil not beef. He strongly believes they should be illegal as they are not only damaging to health but the environment and economy as well. [47:22] – Does choosing organic foods organic and grass-fed food help? While Allan supports this, he urges people to think deeper as not that long ago everything was organic and grass-fed but these practices destroyed 20 civilisations. He believes we need to go further; regenerative agriculture should be the focus. [49:21] – Everything we manage is a web of social cultural and economic complexity and using reductionist management does not work. We are capable of making things with great success but we struggle with management because management is more than complicated, it is complex (for more on this issue see Allan Savory’s uncensored blog about good governments). [52:44] – To find out more, Allan recommends you visit the Savory Institute website. To follow Allan find him on Facebook or visit his blog.
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