Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Cattle Stop Here! Or Do They?

Desertification is a problem that just keeps expanding. Literally! In February 2013, Alan Savory proposed a counter intuitive solution: increasing cattle grazing activity on lands that have suffered from desertification. Alan Savory himself admits that this seems like the last thing that anyone might want to do. He defends his reasoning by talking about the fertilization, and soil protection that grazing livestock offer. Savory says, that cattle dung, urinate and stomp on grazed land. The urine and dung serve as fertilizers for the soil, and stomping tends to keep carbon from escaping the soil. Since land subjected to desertification contains damaged soil that can't properly cycle nutrients, and retain carbon, cattle stomping would help retain soil nutrients by crushing plant debris. The plant debris can then decompose properly, and thereby recycles the nutrients from the decomposing plants.

James McWilliams did not agree with Alan Savory. McWilliams attacked Savory from every angle including repetition of words during his speech to the for-profit Savory Institute foundation; almost making McWilliams seem juvenile. However, McWilliams did voice some legitimate qualms such as, "[...] one could certainly question whether Savory’s research on a 6,200-acre spot of semiarid African land holds any relevance for the rest of the world’s 12 billion acres of desert" (McWilliams). I agree with McWilliams here. It doesn't seem like Savory's proposed 400% increase in cattle is a good idea for world wide grazing efforts. Instead, I think that Savory's methods are best kept to the smaller plots of land like the 6,200 acre plot. I think that, even though a small amount of land in the grand scheme of things, Savory did see a dramatic increase in production of land as shown here:
This does raise the question of Savory bending the truth however. He neglects to mention that, "Cattle that grazed according to Savory’s method needed expensive supplemental feed, became stressed and fatigued, and lost enough weight to compromise the profitability of their meat" (McWilliams). This doesn't come as a surprise for me. Seeing that the cattle didn't have much to graze on, it is very logical that they would need supplemental feed, and would become stressed and fatigued on a lack of proper nutrition. After the drastic difference, I would expect to see quite a difference seeing as grazing cattle could get the proper nutrition without supplemental feed.

According to an article written by Niasse et al. West Africa is, not surprisingly, very vulnerable to climate change and desertification. The authors cite many examples, but a few stuck out. For example, the authors looked at the surface area of Lake Chad which shrank from 20,000 sq km in 1970 to less than 7,000 sq km in 1990 (Niasse et al.). This shows that desertification affects not only land, but also the precious few African  lakes as well. The authors suggest that a regional strategy is necessary to help combat desertification because there is a general lack of knowledge regarding climate change and desertification in West Africa (Naisse et al.). Examples such as these make me think that any progress is good progress indeed. Since Naisse et al. propose a strategy that focuses on smaller regions instead of trying to tackle desertification on a grand scale, it seems that Savory's method would be an ideal solution on a small scale. I don't see  Savory's proposed solution as an applicable model for 12 billion acres of desertified land. A 400% increase in cattle seems to be a bit overboard, and may even contribute to global climate change even more with the release of cattle based methane gases. McWilliams' response, while bringing up valid arguments, failed to acknowledge any potential solutions to the ongoing problem, so I say, let the cattle stomp!

Allan Savory: How to Fight Desertification and Reverse Climate Change. Perf. Alan Savory. TED, 2013. TED Talk.
McWilliams, James. "Why Allan Savory's TED Talk about How Cattle Can Reverse Global Warming Is Dead Wrong." Slate Magazine. N.p., 22 Apr. 2013. Web. 22 May 2013.
Niasse, Madiodio, Abel Afouda, and Abou Amani. Reducing West Africa's Vulnerability to Climate Impacts on Water Resources, Wetlands, and Desertification: Elements for a Regional Strategy for Preparedness and Adaption. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN--the World Conservation Union, 2004. Print.

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