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Keynote speech

Mr. Allan Savory
Keynote speaker, Mr. Allan Savory, President, Savory Institute and Chairman, Africa Center for Holistic Management, referred to himself as a “cat amongst the pigeons” because agriculture is causing desertification, rather than having to adapt to it as is being stated by mainstream science and media. Agriculture – the production of food and fibre from the world’s land and waters – while making civilization possible has also caused the vast man-made deserts and is producing more eroding soil than food today. Agriculture is possibly contributing as much, or more, to climate change than fossil fuels. Further he stated most of today’s increasing droughts and poverty, combined with social breakdowns, abuses and violence against minorities and cultural genocide of pastoralists is due to desertification beginning thousands of years before fossil fuel use.

Savory went on to outline new scientific insights explaining that desertification had never been fully understood and how it was being inexpensively reversed by increasing livestock numbers using holistic planned grazing. He stressed it is simply impossible to reverse desertification using technology, fire and resting land which are the only tools recognized by mainstream reductionist science. Only livestock can now do what is required to restore biological decay to annually dying above ground plant material in the grasslands, savannas and man-made deserts. Fire, however used, is rapid oxidation leading to bare soil. And resting land, as research plots have consistently demonstrated, leads to oxidation replacing decay furthering desertification.

Mr. Savory pointed out that biodiversity loss, desertification and climate change are treated as three separate issues handled by different organizations and conferences but that in reality they are one issue of massive environmental malfunctioning. Without biodiversity loss desertification for instance simply does not occur. And seen from space we are a desert-making species affecting climate. He stressed the need for not only a holistic world view but the use throughout management and policy formation of a holistic framework in place of today’s recently discovered core reductionist framework scientists unknowingly use. He cited examples from four continents of desertification being reversed with increased livestock numbers restoring grassland health and production using the holistic framework. We must recognize the urgent need to change agricultural practices causing desertification rather than telling people agriculture will have to adapt to climate change.

Question and Answer Session

Responding to the participants’ questions, Mr. Savory underlined that overgrazing is not the main cause of land degradation in the drylands as evidenced by severe desertification taking place in research plots, on research stations and in some wilderness areas as well as past irrigation-based civilizations in low rainfall where they had not livestock. Rather, he said, it was a question of inadequate disturbance, biological decay turning to oxidation and plant exposure to animals for too long with inadequate recovery periods between. Just like any gardener knows, bare soil begins retaining rainfall and growing plants when disturbed and covered with dung, urine and dead plant litter. This animals do as they did for millions of years if we use holistic planned grazing to mimic nature. Mr. Savory said that shifting to managing holistically produces measurable change within 12-18 months. On the question of the most appropriate scales for application, given the prevalence of private land ownership regimes, he pointed out holistic planned grazing works regardless of scale but if rangeland units are for any reason too small ownership does not need to be confused with management. Likewise with cropping, if farms have become too large to be ecologically manageable again they can be broken into smaller management units if needed.​

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