Allan Savory

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Allan Savory
Born 15 September 1935 (1935-09-15) (age 79)
Bulawayo, Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe)
Fields Ecology, Range Science
Institutions Savory Institute
Africa Center for Holistic Management
Alma mater University of Natal
Known for Holistic management
Notable awards Banksia International Award (2003)
Buckminster Fuller Challenge (2010)

(Clifford) Allan Redin Savory (born 15 September 1935) is a Zimbabwean biologist, farmer, soldier, exile, environmentalist, and winner of the 2003 Banksia International Award[1] and the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge.[2] He is the originator of holistic management.[3] Savory has said, "only livestock can save us." Through reversing desertification, he claims that rangeland soil has the ability to sequester vast amounts of CO
. These claims are supported by experimental evidence,[4] but are also under fierce dispute.[5][6][7]


Savory was educated in South Africa at the University of Natal, gaining a B.Sc. in Biology and Botany in 1955.[8][9]

Early work in southern Africa[edit]

Savory began working on the problem of land degradation (desertification) in 1955 in Northern Rhodesia, where he served in the Colonial Service as Provincial Game Officer, Northern and Luapula Provinces. He later continued this work in Southern Rhodesia first as a research officer in the Game Department, later as an independent scientist and international consultant.

As late as 1969, he was advocating culling large populations of wild animals such as elephants and hippos, when they appeared to be destroying their habitat.[10][11] He had participated in the culling of 40,000 elephants in the 1950s but he later concluded the culling did not reverse the degradation of the land, calling that project "the saddest and greatest blunder of my life."[12][13]

Savory was inspired by earlier work of French agronomist André Voisin who observed that cattle tended to return to the same patch of grass after about three days. Savory saw this as a solution to overgrazing, and believed that overgrazing was due to leaving cattle too long in the same area rather than the size of the herd.[14][15]

At the time of Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965, Savory was a colonel in the Rhodesian armed forces. He served extensively as an anti-guerrilla "tracker" working with the Tracker Combat Unit.[16]

Political involvement[edit]

Savory was elected to the Rhodesian Parliament representing Matobo constituency in the 1970 election. After resigning from the Rhodesian Front in protest over its racist policies and handling of the war, in 1973 Savory reformed the defunct Rhodesia Party formerly led by Sir Roy Welensky. In June 1973, Savory made a public statement that, if he had been born a black Rhodesian, he would have been a guerrilla fighter. Although he urged white Rhodesians to understand why he would feel this, the reaction to this statement led to Savory's ouster from the Rhodesia Party. In 1977, moderate white parties united in opposition to Ian Smith in what was known as the National Unifying Force (NUF) led by Savory.[17] The NUF party won no seats in the 1977 election, and Savory relinquished leadership to Tim Gibbs, son of Rhodesia's last governor. Savory continued to fight Ian Smith and his policies, in particular opposing the Internal Settlement under Bishop Abel Muzorewa. In 1979, due to conflicts with the Smith government, Savory left Rhodesia and went into self-imposed exile to continue his scientific work.

Move to America[edit]

After leaving Zimbabwe, Savory worked from the Cayman Islands into the Americas, introducing a plan to reverse desertification of 'brittle' grasslands by carefully planning movements of large herds of livestock to mimic those found in nature. Savory immigrated to the US, and with his wife Jody Butterfield founded the Center for Holistic Management in 1984. It later changed its name to the Savory Center and finally Holistic Management International. It launched the Africa Centre for Holistic Management, based in Zimbabwe in 1992 which has 2,520 hectares (6,200 acres) of land. Savory left Holistic Management International in 2009 to form the Savory Institute.[18][19]

Various organisations have worked globally with individuals, government agencies, NGOs, and corporations to restore grasslands through the teaching and practice of holistic management and holistic decision making. This includes conservation projects in the US, Africa, Canada, and Australia, where holistic management is being implemented with the goal of reversing desertification through holistic management techniques, using livestock and planned grazing as the main agent of change.[20]

Although Savory's approach to the problem of desertification has met resistance from the scientific mainstream (see below), some peer-reviewed studies have documented soil improvement as measured by soil carbon, soil biota, water retention, nutrient holding capacity, and ground litter on land grazed according to Savory's methods compared with continuously grazed and non-grazed land.[21][22][23] In 2010, Savory and the Africa Center for Holistic Management won The Buckminster Fuller Challenge,[2] an annual international design competition awarding $100,000 "to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity's most pressing problems."[24] In a 2012 address to the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress, on the urgent need to bring agriculture and conservation back together, Prince Charles lauded Savory's nature based approach:

"I have been particularly fascinated, for example, by the work of a remarkable man called Allan Savory, in Zimbabwe and other semiarid areas, who has argued for years against the prevailing expert view that it is the simple numbers of cattle that drive overgrazing and cause fertile land to become desert. On the contrary, as he has since shown so graphically, the land needs the presence of feeding animals and their droppings for the cycle to be complete, so that soils and grassland areas stay productive. Such that, if you take grazers off the land and lock them away in vast feedlots, the land dies."[25]

His February 2013 TED Talk, "How to green the desert and reverse climate change,"[12] attracted millions of views and was followed up by the release of his TED Book, The Grazing Revolution: A Radical Plan to Save the Earth.[26]


An assessment of multiple research studies, published by the United States Department of Agriculture, concluded that "these results refute prior claims that animal trampling associated with high stocking rates or grazing pressures in rotational grazing systems enhance soil properties and promote hydrological function".[27] Similarly, a survey article by Briske et al. (the same author) that examined rotational grazing systems found "few, if any, consistent benefits over continuous grazing." [28] These confirm earlier research [29] that compared short duration grazing (SDG) and Savory Grazing Method (SGM) in southern Africa and found no evidence of range improvement, a slight economic improvement of a seven-unit intensive system with more animals but with individual weight loss. That study found no evidence for soil improvement, but instead that increased trampling had led to soil compaction.

A coauthor of the USDA paper pointed out that Briske had examined rotational systems in general and not Savory's holistic method with its many components, and contrasted the success reported by many ranchers practicing multi-paddock grazing with the general lack of evidence found by formal research.[30] In March 2013, the Savory Institute published a research portfolio with selected abstracts of papers, theses and reports supporting holistic management and responding to some of their critics.[31]

The assertions made in Savory's TED Talk have been reviewed and criticized by rangeland scientists.[32] In addition to claims about reversing desertification, Savory stated at the same time, “…people who understand far more about carbon than I do calculate that for illustrative purposes, if we do what I’m showing you here, we can take enough carbon out of the atmosphere and safely store it in the grassland soils for thousands of years, and if we just do that on about half the world’s grasslands that I’ve shown you, we can take us back to pre-industrial levels while feeding people." Jason West and David Briske, writing on the climate science website RealClimate, set out figures for carbon storage and uptake by the world's vegetation, and concluded that, "It is simply unreasonable to expect that any management strategy, even if implemented on all of the planet’s grasslands, would yield such a tremendous increase in carbon sequestration."[33] Briske's conclusions were disputed by engineer Seth Itzkan, a supporter of Savory, in a self-published paper.[34]

Another recent review in the International Journal of Biodiversity also criticized Savory's methods and assertions, finding little peer-review support for many of his more contentious assertions. The authors concluded that: "Ecologically, the application of HM principles of trampling and intensive foraging are as detrimental to plants, soils, water storage, and plant productivity as are conventional grazing systems. Contrary to claims made that HM will reverse climate change, the scientific evidence is that global greenhouse gas emissions are vastly larger than the capacity of worldwide grasslands and deserts to store the carbon emitted each year."[6]

Savory has been criticised by the writer George Monbiot who has looked into the claims made by Savory in a 2014 article in The Guardian. He concluded that there was no scientific evidence to support Savory's claims.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2003 award winners". Banksia Environmental Foundation. Archived from the original on 5 November 2003. 
  2. ^ a b Cliff Kuang (2 June 2010). "Method That Turns Wastelands Green Wins 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge". FastCompany. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  3. ^ "Holistic Land Management: Key to Global Stability" by Terry Waghorn. Forbes. 20 December 2012.
  4. ^ Teague, W R; S. L. Dowhowera, S.A. Bakera, N. Haileb, P.B. DeLaunea, D.M. Conovera (2011). "Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie". Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment. 141, Issues 3–4, May 2011, Pages 310–322 (3–4): 310. doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.03.009. 
  5. ^ Briske, David D.; Ash, Andrew J.; Derner, Justin D.; Huntsinger, Lynn. "Commentary: A critical assessment of the policy endorsement for holistic management". Agricultural Systems 125: 50–53. doi:10.1016/j.agsy.2013.12.001. 
  6. ^ a b John Carter, Allison Jones, Mary O’Brien, Jonathan Ratner and George Wuerthner. "Holistic Management: Misinformation on the Science of Grazed Ecosystems". International Journal of Biodiversity 2014 (163431). doi:10.1155/2014/163431. 
  7. ^ a b George Monbiot. "Eat Meat and Save the World?". / The Guardian. 
  8. ^ "Following up with Allan Savory on using cattle to reverse desertification and global warming". Retrieved 2014-08-24. 
  9. ^ "The Holistic Resource Management Workbook". Island Press. 1993. Retrieved 2014-08-24. 
  10. ^ Savory, C. A. R. (1969). "Crisis in Rhodesia". Oryx 10: 25. doi:10.1017/S0030605300007638.  edit
  11. ^ Lawton, R. M.; Gough, M. (1970). "Elephants or Fire—Which to Blame?". Oryx 10 (4): 244. doi:10.1017/S0030605300008528.  edit
  12. ^ a b Allan Savory (February 2013). "How to green the desert and reverse climate change". TED. Retrieved 4 April 2013. 
  13. ^ "Can Livestock Grazing Stop Desertification?" by Colin Sullivan. Scientific American, 5 March 2013.
  14. ^ Voisin, André (1 December 1988) [1959]. Grass Productivity. Island Press. ISBN 978-0933280649.  Savory wrote the introduction for the Island Press edition.
  15. ^ Fairlie, Simon (2010). Meat: A Benign Extravagance. Chelsea Green Publishing. pp. 191–193. ISBN 9781603583251. 
  16. ^ Scott-Donelan, David (March 1985). "ZAMBEZI VALLEY MANHUNT". Soldier of Fortune magazine. p. 70. Retrieved 8 April 2014. 
  17. ^ Mitchell, Thomas G. (2002). Indispensable Traitors: Liberal Parties in Settler Conflicts. Greenwood Publishing Group. 
  18. ^ Fears, Robert (17 February 2012). "A Whole View". The Cattleman. 
  19. ^ "The Africa Centre; a participants perspective". Holistic Management in Practice (Center for Holistic Management) (98). 2004. Retrieved 1 April 2013. 
  20. ^ "Greener Pastures", by Judith D. Schwartz. Conservation Magazine, Summer 2011 / Vol. 12 No. 2.
  21. ^ Teague, W R; S. L. Dowhowera, S.A. Bakera, N. Haileb, P.B. DeLaunea, D.M. Conovera (2011). "Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie". Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment. 141, Issues 3–4, May 2011, Pages 310–322 (3–4): 310. doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.03.009. 
  22. ^ K.T. Weber, B.S. Gokhale, (2011). "Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho" Journal of Arid Environments. 75, 464–470.
  23. ^ Sanjari G, Ghadiri H, Ciesiolka CAA, Yu B (2008). "Comparing the effects of continuous and time-controlled grazing systems on soil characteristics in Southeast Queensland" Soil Research 46, 348–358.
  24. ^ "The Buckminster Fuller Challenge" BFI website.
  25. ^ "Prince Charles sends a message to IUCN's World Conservation Congress". International Union for Conservation of Nature. 27 August 2012. 
  26. ^ Nierenberg, Danielle (2014-02-03). "Allan Savory: Save the world's food supply through a grazing revolution". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2014-05-24. 
  27. ^ Briske, D.D., editor. {2011}. "An Evidence-Based Assessment of Prescribed Grazing Practices." Conservation Benefits of Rangeland Practices: Assessment, Recommendations, and Knowledge Gaps. United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. p.32: "These results refute prior claims that animal trampling associated with high stocking rates or grazing pressures in rotational grazing systems enhance soil properties and promote hydrological function."
  28. ^ Briske, D.D.; Derner, J.D.; Brown, J.R.; Fuhlendorf, S.D.; Teague, W.R.; Havstad, K.M.; Gillen, R.L.; Ash, A.J.; Willms, W.D. (2008). "Rotational Grazing on Rangelands: Reconciliation of Perception and Experimental Evidence". Rangeland Ecology and Management 61: 3–17. doi:10.2111/06-159R.1. 
  29. ^ Skovlin, Jon (August 1987). "Southern Africa's Experience with Intensive Short Duration Grazing". Rangelands volume=9 (4): 162–167. 
  30. ^ Teague, Richard; Provenza, Fred; Norton, Brien; Steffens, Tim; Barnes, Matthew; Kothmann, Mort; Roath, Roy (2008). "Benefits of Multi-Paddock Grazing Management on Rangelands: Limitations of Experimental Grazing Research and Knowledge Gaps". In Schroder, H.G. Grasslands: Ecology, Management and Restoration. New York: Nova Science Publishers. pp. 41–80. ISBN 978-1-60692-023-7. 
  31. ^ "Holistic Management Research Portfolio". Savory Institute. March 2013. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  32. ^ David D. Briske, Brandon T. Bestelmeyer, Joel R. Brown, Samuel D. Fuhlendorf, and H. Wayne Polley (2013) The Savory Method Can Not Green Deserts or Reverse Climate Change. Rangelands: October 2013, Vol. 35, No. 5, pp. 72-74. doi:
  33. ^
  34. ^ Itzkan, Seth. "Regarding Holechek and Briske, and Rebuttals by Teague, Gill & Savory". Planet-TECH Associates. Retrieved 16 November 2013. 

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