Allan Savory

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since May 23, 2013
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Recent posts by Allan Savory

Adrien I will be going off your site now. Thank you for inviting me – I must say I had no idea how much time it would take over 3 days but feel every minute was worth it. I sincerely hope I have been able to create at least an awareness that greatly improved cropping polyculture practices alone will not reverse the desertification taking place over billions of hectares of the world’s land. Land so vast and where humidity distribution is not adequate to maintain ecological processes using high levels of manpower, fossil fuels and money to plant tap-rooted species (trees, shrubs, forbs) as the main agents of stability and production. I also hope I have helped dispel the widespread beliefs that managing holistically is some sort of grazing system. An understandable confusion because so many people have developed plagiarized derivatives of our work. Thanks to all who asked questions, and for your kind feedback.

Long ago I wrote that I could see only two things that might now save humanity – an issue large enough to unite us as a species, and the means for ordinary citizens to openly communicate rapidly around the globe (free of censorship by authorities, experts and governments). Climate change is now with us despite remaining denials largely due to multi billion dollar corporate smokescreens. And the means for us to communicate globally we are now using as I write.

Agriculture is not crop production. It is the production of food and fibre from the world’s land and waters. And, as currently carried out with our reductionist management, agriculture is without any doubt mankind’s most destructive endeavor ever, having destroyed more civilizations than armies and now a greater global threat even than fossil fuels. As I pointed out in the TED talk even in a post-fossil-fuel world of benign mass energy climate change will continue because of agriculture if we do not change.

Agriculture always involves managing “complexity”- social, cultural, environmental and economic. In a world in which nature and complexity function in wholes and patterns as Smuts wrote in 1926, management needs to be holistic and cannot successfully be reductionist. And management needs to be based on sound science and scientific principles few could argue. What constitutes reductionist management? I would define it as management in which the context for any objective is need, desire or addressing a problem. All objectives require a context and such contexts are too simplistic for the complexity of the real world – hence agriculture now contributing to global desertification, poverty, social breakdown, abuse of women and children, cultural genocide of ancient proud pastoral people, violence, war and climate change. It was this same reductionist management that led to past civilizations failing as their societies proved incapable of managing the complexity of rising population and agricultural environmental damage, before fossil fuels, monocultures and industrial agriculture. Managing holistically I would define as management at any level in which objectives have a holistic context. This is a new concept, not previously in any branch of science, philosophy or in any religion, that ties people’s deepest values and culture to their life-supporting environment.

The role of permies, as you call yourselves, is vital if we are to address our flawed agriculture and I admire the level of global networking you have achieved amongst wonderful caring open-minded people helping one another with ideas and experiences applying sound principles to crop and small animal production mainly. I hope that I have been able to at least create and awareness of the need for the holistic framework in all management – from household and small farm to government and international policies and development projects.

We at Savory Institute are striving to get the holistic framework into international consciousness rapidly to avert tragedy beyond imagination. The road over the past fifty years has been rocky indeed because as John Ralston Saul, studying our major global blunders since Voltaire and the age of reason, wrote “The reality is that the division of knowledge into feudal fiefdoms of expertise has made general understanding and coordinated action not simply impossible but despised and distrusted.”

The leadership the world desperately needs is not ever going to come from universities, experts, governments, major NGO’s or international agencies. It can only come from ordinary people like you and me. With this in mind our institute is embarking on a strategy of having people around the world form learning hubs that we will connect to one another with through an internet platform. All such hubs to be locally led and managed and to involve some land base. In late June in Boulder people from the first ten countries will meet to begin helping one another form such learning hubs. I sincerely hope that permies world-wide will begin understanding the need for management to be holistic and join in such collaboration. Only through massive collaboration between organizations and people of all cultures have we any hope of jointly beginning to revers desertification and develop an agriculture that does produce more food than eroding soil to sustain civilization as we know it. I hope many of you will join us creating this vast practical network of people learning with one another, and at least get our regular news through our website.

Please all of you feel free to use anything I wrote and distribute as widely as you like in any manner you can. We need to get greater understanding to billions of people because our survival depends on a more informed citizenry in all nations and the commonsense of ordinary people.
Warmest regards

11 years ago
Alex read my latest post to Natasha about the many derivatives. You are heading right into one.
11 years ago
It is late and I am exhausted after 3 days of trying my best to answer so many great people. Email me and I will ask someone dealing with more very small farmers and see if she would link you to any.
11 years ago
We do a great deal of work getting people to work together. We tried for years in Africa and can tell you a lot of things not to do. Finally we brought in more people and gained more insights from others. Over the past 3 years we have done an enormous amount of work and development of training materials around adult experiential learning and community mobilization. Now we are seeing encouraging results. My wife who has directed much of that program will be speaking about it at our upcoming conference in Boulder late June. Mobilizing any community where the collaboration of many is a prerequisite of meaningful reversal of land degradation is as we have learned not easy.
11 years ago
I fully understand your confusion about the many grazing systems being promoted. Everett Rogers in his book The Diffusion of Innovations describes this well. When someone learns something new, for various reasons including ego, they tend to give it a twist and a name of their own and so slowly new innovations spread. When I came to the US there was really only continuous grazing and Hormay’s rest-rotation system being widely promoted. One university soon after began to use Andre Voisin’s work on pastures in Europe and his excellent “Rational (not rotational) Grazing” applicable to pasture situations (good humidity distribution).

Within a few months of my beginning to train people (eventually about 12,000) there were about a dozen plagarizations or derivatives of holistic planned grazing. In every case the planning process and entire reason for consistent success was dropped (that would identify where it came from). It is a bit like “Send reinforcements we are going to advance” - after being relayed through two people becoming “Send refreshments we are going to a dance!”

The derivatives come from either myself or Voisin, both of whom recognized and warned of the dangers of any form of rotational or other grazing system. (I note you use the word in referring to my system – I have no system and am totally against any grazing system because none ever devised can address the complexity you farmers face). Management systems are desirable and should be used where everything is predictable. So use accounting systems to track money, accounts payable or receivable, etc. Use systems to track inventory or anything else that is pretty predictable and not involving the concept of complexity. However using any grazing system, rotational, mob, short duration, MIG you name it and you will find it incapable of addressing complexity – social, environmental and economic complexity. I have listened in groups and watched some excellent videos on mob grazing – full of exciting and great tips and bits of sound information and great results on the ground shown – all very helpful and motivational for farmers so I never say anything to harm that progress as it is. However I also note prescriptive and dogmatic statements that will lead for example farmers really battling financially into wrong actions. Long ago I used to consult and advise and with hindsight I learned that almost all my advice was wrong – we simply cannot be prescriptive about any practice in complex farming situations.

So I do not respond or react to the derivatives of my work - people will gradually learn and there is nothing else I can do – but it does stress me to see people confused and achieving less that they can if they only go back to the originals - either Voisin’s Rational Grazing for pastures, or holistic planned grazing for any grazing world wide in all environments. If anyone improves on either of these go for it as I will because I have no aim but to help people succeed. By the way my wife and I had Voisin’s book republished by Island Press because I was so concerned with the derivatives of his work as I witnessed academics and farmers convert his “rational” (planned simply) grazing to rotational grazing despite all his warnings. I was taken once to a “Voisin pasture” operated by a university and shown it with great pride. Not willing to offend my hosts I kept quiet but silently thought how Voisin would be rolling in his grave if he was there – had his work been understood and not changed it would have been easy to at least double the production of the pasture they were so proud of.

Another reason I do not worry myself about all the many derivatives is because they are being practiced in the green zone essentially that I showed in the TED view from space. If practiced in the more erratic greater part of the world (and U.S) where desertification is happening they fall flat pretty quickly because there is not the relatively well distributed humidity that covers the faults. So the derivatives do more good than harm generally for the land and are generally improving people’s financial positions. As I mentioned in an earlier post what people miss is the hidden costs and losses financial and social issues more than the land – and what they do not see they do not miss!

Re where to get started. I am going to relay your good feedback on our SI site – thank you for that. I too have found it confusing at times. We are right now completely revamping it as part of our move to more sophisticated platform to connect hubs globally. I will be off this permies site tomorrow but if you email me I will ensure you get the regular newsetter (use

On the site you should be able to find the e-books about teaching yourself various aspects of holistic management. And in the Handbook written by Jody Butterfield available on site you will find the really simply laid out information on land planning where livestock are involved, holistic planned grazing and holistic financial planning. All are written in such a manner we believe people could largely teach themselves. The grazing planning process is a very simple step by step process recording each small piece of information that is in your head on a planning chart – then toward the end plotting all the planned moves of the animals – to get the animals in the right place for the right reason at the right time with the behavior needed. And we often plot moves backwards which is powerful and always dropped in the derivatives – hard to rotate backwards I guess! Fortunately the derivatives are generally not used in the seriously drought prone regions – there we find the planning process plays a major role is avoiding catastrophes in the very poor years in a manner that simply cannot be done with any grazing system.

Also as you learn how to plan grazing in a holistic context you will begin doing things no derivate even thinks of doing. A simple example this coming season I will, as mentioned in an earlier post, be teaching our ranch staff to use the livestock to deliberately overgraze all plants on selected sites to increase wildlife habitat. Last season we had some animals on continuous grazing while others moved faster and so on. One other thing we are doing now is using the planned grazing to maintain selected areas bare for wildlife as over most of the land we are running out of even small bare areas for teaching purposes. Time to learn all this is later now just need to make a start.

Re the hemlock already you are giving clues – association with loose soil. Association with formerly cropped hillside. Seed immediately viable. Seed able to lie dormant till ideal germinating conditions (not unusual) and so on. I would love to see research narrow those germinating environments. Germinating in both sunlight and dark, useful but seems to be in disturbed soils or loose (sand or soil). By the way tap rooted plants do not need soft soil – but dicotyledonous plants which constitute almost all problem plants are all tap-rooted (that is one of the defining points of dicots). Only for illustrative purposes because I am not there, do not have your holistic context to ensure all actions are in context, things I would be doing are things such as in the appropriate planning step marking all areas where hemlock is dangerous, and over what periods most dangerous. And any areas with what look like ideal germinating conditions as far as you can understand them. And with the animal moves I would probably be ensuring very heavy animal impact on those sites when safe. Frustrating trying to explain on a computer so much easier on the land and with the planning process.

By the way the grazing planning is profoundly simple. I have trained an Africa school leaver to do it in 1.5 hours. And he did a superb job. Again hope I have helped more than added to confusion - almost everyone has been confused by so many derivatives as I feared would happen but could not prevent.
11 years ago
I have looked at the pictures of your site and you certainly do farm in a difficult situation. I hope you are able to read my other responses to gain a better understanding or holistic management. Having said that let me make some comments.

You seem already committed for many reasons to farming such rough hilly country. And it seems in those hills you are rightly terracing to grow most crops and with those I can think of no better people to help you than you are already working with in permaculture. Re goats, they are probably the best suited to such rough wooded hills – keeping them confined and carting feed is as you know costly in time and labour. If this has to be done then think about using small easily portable corals for them and not keeping them in only one place. In this way the portable corals can be incorporated into crop field improvement as people in India (Tamil Nadu) have done for thousands of years.

If you are able to run them in those hills the only ways I currently know are using very simple single strand electric fencing that is moveable using fixed post but movable wire or tape. Again this should be on the basis of planned moves so that overbrowsing is minimized, which will greatly increase production of all plants and the goats and soil cover.

It is commonly believed goats do not respect electric fencing but they do given training and moved in a manner that reduces nutritional stress as you would do with planned grazing. Long ago we did the initial training with very clever goats by using a small training area and painting the wire around that small areas with molasses. After one lick the goats had a healthy respect for the wire. And from then on the wire in the paddocks was respected unless we put nutritional stress on the goats – which we avoid as with cattle by never having animals graze or browse all the vegetation which will always stress animals and lower their production. Most animals can be trained also to move themselves by simply training them to a whistle in the usual manner – whistle followed always by reward. Within days they know hearing the whistle means go to the gate and move to fresh browse – or come home to a coral getting a small reward. I have known of wild cattle that took four men on horseback a full day to move out of hilly heavily bushed country, receiving four days of training – after which one man on foot could move every single animal in twenty minutes.

Good luck playing around with some of these ideas.
11 years ago
You have really understood – there are no silver bullets or recipes or experts who can tell us what to do when addressing such complexity. Every person, family, community, farm, nation, corporation or whatever is totally unique and in the case of say the family farm not only unique, but unique every year. You cannot step into the same river twice because it is flowing. This is why everything we make is a success but everything we manage if we are honest with ourselves is running into problems now overwhelming us. Agriculture as I pointed out in another response is our most alarming endeavour ever.
Rebecca Costa in her book The Watchman’s Rattle – I believe laid it out well. All those past civilizations that failed did not do so only because of the agricultural destruction of their environment, but because with rising populations and declining environment they could not address the complexity. So the turned increasingly to faith and away from “science” and shelved the problems for later generations. And those of course were overwhelmed. Exactly what we can recognize globally today turning to faith and technology and shelving the real growing problems of our own making because of our inability to address complexity. This is why our institution is trying so hard to get the holistic framework into international consciousness to avert tragedy beyond imagination.
Having said that the core framework people are not aware they are using is universal (all conscious decisions made toward an objective or goal – using the tools of technology, fire, resting the environment, small living organisms – and making all decisions based on one or more factors, such as past experience, expert advice, research results, cost, cultural norms, expediency, peer pressure, friend’s advice, advertising, expediency and so on and on and on). Humans do not know this framework exists and is the basis of all conscious decisions from a million or so years ago to the most sophisticated scientific team today engaged in space exploration. Just as this core framework is used today in all walks of life so too I believe could we consciously use the modified holistic framework. There is no case too small or too large. Providing cases of it’s use on the very small scale is difficult other than anecdotally – here is about the smallest example I know of:
A woman (single mother with son) was in training with me concerning larger situations – she saw this could be used personally. She defined a holistic context for herself and her life as she wanted it to be tied to her life-supporting resource base. She went shopping with her small son a few days later – filled her shopping cart and was at the cash register to pay – suddenly thought about that context turned around and put almost everything back on the shelves. Everything we buy is an objective. The context for almost all we buy is “need” or “desire” and that is not an adequate context always in our complex lives. As she thought about her holistic context she realized she needed almost none of the stuff she had loaded into her cart. Can’t go much smaller than that.
11 years ago
I think I get the picture – as I have urged others do try to read my responses so that you get a good idea of what holistic management means. In your case once you have defined the holistic context it will help you – anyone can just kill plants like that. When I first came to the US I found that $300 million was being spent annually killing noxious/non-native, etc plants. They have not succeeded with a single plant in any state and, by calculation, something like $12 billion has been spent now without success anywhere. So let’s look at it differently. Some other “problem” plants like napweed for example we have been able to solve ( get them to be just one of many more species in a healthy environment and causing no known problem) without spending a dollar.

First, plants do not invade or compete as I am sure most in permaculture know. Plants grow where the environment is well suited to their germination and establishment as nature constantly fills any vacuum resulting from our management. Hemlock as I understand is being provided with ideal conditions for germination and establishment of it’s seeds and like almost all “problem” plants is tap-rooted. The healthy grassland you want will be obviously mostly grass with fibrous roots systems. So your management of that land and the livestock needs to be constantly biasing things toward providing soil surface conditions or an environment in which hemlock seeds do not germinate well. And your management needs to be providing a mass of healthy fibrous rooted grasses that are not conducive to any germinating tap-rooted plant establishing. What do you know about the germinating conditions required by hemlock? Any information you can obtain here will help because that should be built into the planned grazing. Developing dense grass root systems will automatically follow good planned grazing.

I would advise you to get off management intensive grazing as that could well be one of the things leading to a good germination and establishment environment for hemlock – otherwise why would it be filling a vacuum most suited to it’s germination and establishment needs under your present management? I hope this is helpful.
11 years ago
John I have looked at your site and that was helpful. I have sent message to help me put you in touch with a person who might help you and who did extensive training with me. Meanwhile – if as you want to you desire to restore that land to the highest level of health you can you will need to use livestock and sheep are as good as any on such a dry small area surrounded by urban development. However if you talk of using livestock you risk starting conflicting opinions in your community – so do not do so.
If you read other posts you will now understand that having that objective with the problem (degraded land) as the context is not likely to work without all manner on unintended consequences, possible conflicts in surrounding community, etc. So as you use the holistic framework to help all of you involved begin moving forward in unison, without conflicting opinions and with the common good of all and the environment in mind, you will need to understand how to get the right people at the table (decision makers and those with veto power) and define a holistic context. That I can tell you now is the hardest thing you will need to do – from there on all should sail smoothly.

Once you have the holistic context defined everyone will be fully on board you will find. And then you can start discussing all the possible ways of healing that land within that context. Never say any idea emerging from anyone is a bad idea – because you do not know. Only when you use the filtering to see if any of the ideas emerging is in context will you know – and if any idea was not socially, economically and environmentally sound for your situation you will drop, as will the person who put forward that idea (having learned that is not a good idea in that situation at the present time, and not been told it was not a good idea). At this point is where the idea of using livestock can be brought forward and treated in similar manner. From there you proceed to detail about what type of livestock (sheep probably best with or without goats) and how the livestock should be managed to address the complexity – there is only one way we currently know and that is the holistic planned grazing it has taken so many of us to so many years to develop.

Some minor points – try not to get locked into of influenced by so many of today’s myths. Things like native and non-native – that is a bureaucratic term. Life has been moving around our planet over a long time and to give a date and say if something arrived after that date it does not get it’s visa is ridiculous and not scientific in any manner. This nonsense results in endless waste of money and effort. To date we have no non-native species on the planet. Bearing that in mind hopefully you will just begin welcoming all plants as nature begins filling the enormous vacuum that we have caused. If some plants dominate the community to the extent of becoming a problem of any sort the normal use of the holistic framework will deal with that as you will learn during your progress as you manage the situation holistically. I am going to try to get you connected to local help.
11 years ago
Alex, Natasha is right. Please read all the responses I am giving – I cannot keep repeating and as it is am taking much time responding over these 3 days and doing my best to help all. It is holistic management – and reading other posts you will learn that is two processes acting together, with one holistic planned grazing only kicking in when livestock are managed on the land.
And holistic planned grazing is universal as you will read, having been developed over about fifty years in all environments from true desert margins with almost no rainfall at all to very high rainfall areas with over 2,500 mm of rain. And over all soils and nature of country from open plains and savannas to mountains. In every situation the detail differs but the identical planning process is used and it has been (and continues to be) refined by our institute and changed every time we strike any new problem anywhere in the world.
11 years ago