Thursday, May 23, 2013

Can livestock really reverse desertification?

            Desertification is the process of a fertile area of land becoming increasingly dry to the point that it loses its water sources and its vegetation and wildlife. This is typically caused by climate change and human activity, such as overgrazing, deforestation and tilling the land for agriculture. Desertification is a problem that needs to be addressed soon.

The Sahel in Africa, one of the most environmentally degraded areas on earth.
            In Alan Savory’s TED talk, he describes his method of reversing desertification by using herds of livestock to mimic nature. These herds would help promote the biological decay of the grasses and plants by stomping, defecating, chewing, and spitting on them. It would also promote the soil’s ability to absorb water. In his TED talk, he claims that the livestock would not require any extra feed to compensate for the limited natural resources available to the livestock on the dried-out land.
            Unfortunately, as pointed out in James McWilliams’ article All Sizzle and No Steak, Savory has not had much luck reproducing his results in other areas of the world. McWilliams stated that “whereas Savory insists that his methods will revive grasses, ‘the most complete study in North America’ on the impact of holistic management on prairie grass found ‘a definite decline’ of plant growth on mixed prairie and rough fescue areas.” McWilliams also refers to other studies that have pointed out that Savory’s methods are either no better than other methods for management of desertification, or that his methods have actually led to desertification in some areas.
            I think that if Savory’s methods work in certain areas, then he should continue to implement them there. The fact is that these methods are not working everywhere. We should focus our efforts on ways to reverse desertification by looking at each area of land individually. Not all desertification is caused by the same thing, so one method will not work for each area. Savory believes that his methods will work in all areas, yet not all areas affected by desertification have the same climate, which is most likely why his methods are not reproducible in all areas. Desertification is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed. Savory’s methods might work in some areas, and should be used in those areas. Focus now needs to be shifted to new methods that will work in other areas.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, unfortunately the Slate article which you have based many of your conclusions on is deeply flawed. Read this: