Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Allan Savory: Decertification

Allan Savory introduces a new and unheard of idea to the environmental ecologist, instead of removing cattle from a desertification area he wants to bring cattle and other livestock back to these areas to re-cultivate the land. Most of the rain that falls in these locations is evaporated back into the atmosphere once the rain stops, this leads to the release of carbon because the soil is damaged. The total area that is being affected by desertification is between 6 to 12 million square kilometers.  Over 2/3 of the grasslands around the world are going through desertification this is causing large climate changes and affecting the lives of many native cultures who traditionally use cattle and livestock to support there families.
Through Savory’s research, locations that cattle were removed from to prove that in fact it is livestock that is the cause behind desertification have shown the opposite. These places show a higher amount of damaged soil with little plant growth. Plants need to decay biologically before the end of the growing season to continue replenishing the soil, if they do not the plants and soil die and go through oxidation. Oxidation slowly turns grassy planes into woody, bear lands and in return releases more carbon into the atmosphere. Curios about this Savory looked at United States national parks where mass desertification is happening and realized that no livestock had ever been to this land, meaning that the desertification could not be caused by livestock alone.       

Many people have tried burning and removing cattle to stop desertification. In Africa they are burning close to one billion hectares of grassland every year, which is releasing more carbon into the air and then also leaving the soil with little nutrients. These actions have not changed the rapid loss of grasslands but may have even caused it to become worse.     
Before heavy human interaction large herds of animals would move through grazing the grass but then would have to move off due to large predators that would fallow them. Large herds dung and urinate all over their food, this provides nutrients for the soil to absorb and then give to the plants. These grazing animals would then have to moved on due to predators causing them to not over graze.  This is essentially what Savory’s Holistic management is. Savory wants to recreate the events that occurred long ago before these herds where moved off. This is called Holistic Management. By moving cattle and other livestock like a predator pray would move one then the plants with not be over grazed but also get the same amount of nutrients form feces and urine. By increasing several herds some by 400%, Savory was able to bring back full growth in areas where desertification had taken place. Savory believes that we can get back to pre-industrial carbon levels if we continue his process. While cattle produce methane Savory says that the amount of grassland that will be brought back will compensate for the extra methane released.
One criticism given by James McWilliams in response to Savory’s findings is that what was left out was that most cattle had to be placed in a supplement diet due to lack of food. This caused some of the cattle to lose a significant amount of weight that they could not be sold.  Having a large number of cattle was suppose to be a benefit to the farmers to help them sell more meat but if the cows are not large enough and will not give any meat it defeats the purpose.   
Savory’s methods do have errors and there is much criticism but the idea
that desertification is being caused by a lack of grazing is so different that it should be met with speculation.  After seeing the before and after pictures of several different areas it is hard to believe that Savory’s methods don’t have some logic behind them.