Monday, May 20, 2013
Allen Savory: Reversing desertification with livestock
Allen Savory’s TED talk about a possible method of reversing desertification was very interesting and at first very promising as well. Allen proposed that in order to reverse desertification we need to increase, not decrease, the number of livestock on these lands while using careful management of grazing patterns which he calls holistic management. The idea is that by using large herds of livestock we can mimic the natural grazing animals which used to occupy the lands and improve land quality through a unique symbiotic relationship. According to Savory the natural action of grazing animals living on and flattening the grasslands before moving to the next pasture actually increases the fertility of the land by increasing water retention and space for new grass to grow.
In my opinion I don’t think Savory’s model for reversing desertification will prove successful on a large scale. While his cattle management method worked in certain situations I don’t think it is likely to work in many others. Many of the issues brought up in the review paper by James McWilliams are valid questions that have been the reasoning for not using an approach similar to Savory’s holistic management in the past. While Savory’s use of cattle may have proved successful in certain situations he didn't talk about the “15 years of frustrating and erratic results” where his holistic management techniques didn't change the desertification problem occurring. He also didn't mention that during some of his trials the animals were stressed and needed additional feed. Even during exceptionally high rainfall levels his methods “failed to produce the marked improvement in grassland cover claimed from its application”.
A related paper that I found was trying to understand the roles of sedentarization (land becoming sedentary), mobility, and rest on desertification with livestock. http://www.pastoralismjournal.com/content/1/1/19
They found many issues to be at play in desertification including environmental change and frequent burning with sedentarization being lower in significance.
While I find myself hopeful that land management of this kind will work and increase productivity while decreasing desertification I don’t expect it to. Until I see more examples of holistic management working sustainably I expect that some of the results presented to us may have had other factors involved in reversing desertification.
Allan Savory: How to Fight Desertification and Reverse Climate Change. TED: Ideas worth Spreading. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2013.
Desertification in the Sahel. Desertification in the Sahel. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2013.