Sarah Savory is the daughter of Zimbabwean ecologist and advocate of holistic management, Allan Savory. She lives and works in Zimbabwe and is an advocate of regenerative and sustainable agriculture and holistic management. Savory shares her thoughts on some important issues with www.agriorbit.com. This month, she considers technology, climate change, holistic management and the future of planet earth.
As a conservationist and the mother of two young children, I am concerned about the future of our planet especially when it comes to climate change which is a clear and present danger.
Bleak as things may sometimes seem, there is hope in the form of new and paradigm-shifting knowledge. This knowledge offers hope, not only for the future and health of humanity but for the future of all plant and animal life on the planet.
The solution to most of the global issues we face requires engaging with a new way of thinking, followed by action and implementation. Primarily, we should stop assuming that technology is the answer to our problems.
Global desertification of the world’s grasslands is the most significant challenge to humanity as problems of increasing drought, flooding, cyclones, poverty, poaching, wildfires, social breakdown, violence, urban drift, biodiversity loss and climate change mount up.
Thus far in our existence humans have made management decisions using a genetically embedded decision-making framework. In the last 400 years, our knowledge, and the technological power to respond to any challenge, has increased more rapidly than in the two hundred thousand odd years of modern human existence. During the same few centuries, the health of our planet has entered an alarming decline.
The parallel is no coincidence. In studying our planet, and the many creatures inhabiting it, we cannot successfully isolate anything, let alone control the variables. Individual parts do not exist in nature, only wholes, and these form and shape each other. When we ignore this fact, the unintended consequences of our management decisions on the environment can be devastating. This is so common that there is a name for it: the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Technology has its place and a part to play. One example of this is that the issue of fossil fuels will only be solved using technology. However, most of the global issues we face are biological and we cannot solve biological problems with technology. We can only solve them biologically.
Nature models order and balance and nothing in nature operates, or can survive, in isolation. Human beings have disturbed the balance of the biological world to such an extent that our existence is threatened. No higher life-form can survive without healthy soil, balance and biodiversity.
A tool for survival and regeneration
The good news is that there is a solution and a tool we can use to bring nature back to health and to a point where we can ensure a future for ourselves, our children and all life on land and in our oceans. The condition is that we have to work quickly.
Everything in nature works in ‘wholes’ and nothing can function in isolation, including man. There are only smaller wholes, that operate in bigger wholes, that operate in bigger wholes and so on.
My father, Allan Savory, has dedicated his life to finding solutions to the problem of desertification, to save our wildlife. In the course of his work he has discovered that land degradation and desertification is not confined to one region but that all the world’s grasslands (which make up about two-thirds of our planet’s land mass) are slowly turning into deserts with denuded soils and that this is one of the biggest causes of climate change. The soil health on these grasslands is directly linked to the timing and movement of herding animals.
The soil is the biggest carbon sink and reservoir of fresh water on earth. Desertification causes ineffective rainfall – instead of rain sinking into the plant litter and filtering through the plant roots, to the rivers and oceans, it runs off, taking the topsoil with it, silting up rivers and oceans. The inability of the rainwater to be taken up and stored in the soil creates droughts since the water is immediately lost into the atmosphere rather than stored underground. It also creates floods because when we have heavy rain, the water cannot filter through into the soil, it runs off the surface, causing flooding and landslides. When there are no roots to bind the soil, river banks collapse causing even more damage. This is what we have seen happen recently in Zimbabwe with Cyclone Idai.
The holistic management framework
My father also discovered that nobody had ever looked at how we manage. When he did this, he discovered the genetically embedded, reductionist management framework that humans tend towards using. So, he developed something he called the holistic management framework.
I need to mention here, that while there may be many ‘holistic approaches’ or ‘holistic practices’, they are not the same thing. The holistic management framework is a unique and specific framework and the first in our history that successfully deals with nature’s complexity. It truly is ground-breaking and paradigm-shifting new thinking.
When we use this framework, one of the first things we do is to create a reason for our management decisions, forming our own ‘holistic context’ of what we want our future to look like.
Here is an example of holistic context:
“We want stable families, living peaceful lives, in prosperity and physical security, while free to pursue our own spiritual, or religious, beliefs. We want adequate, nutritious food and clean water; to enjoy good education and health, and to lead balanced lives, with time for family, friends and community and leisure for cultural and other pursuits. All to be ensured, for many generations to come, on a foundation of regenerating soils, ethical and humane consideration for all life and biologically diverse communities, on earth’s land, and in all rivers, lakes and oceans.”
With the holistic context in mind, the holistic management framework helps us to ensure that all our decisions are in line with our particular context, whatever it is we are managing. The seven check point questions it asks makes sure that all our management decisions are ecologically and environmentally regenerative, economically viable and socially sound.
Using this framework with our holistic context in mind, making a decision about single use plastics would be simple; they would probably pass the economic check points, would no longer pass the social check points and definitely would not pass the environmental check points. This means that buying, or using, single use plastics would not be in line with your holistic context.
In some cases, there is a ‘weaning’ period between the two management frameworks, when changing from reductionist management to using the holistic framework, because in certain situations, one cannot abruptly change the system. We call this adjustment period ‘doing the wrong thing for the right reason’ and we start to taper it off until we can stop the practice altogether.
This framework can be applied anywhere, to any system, to ensure that the health of the planet which supports life comes first.
A new management tool
In ecosystem and land management, we have only ever had three tools available to deal with land degradation: technology, rest and fire.
Technology cannot solve biological problems. Resting land for recovery works only in areas where there is constant humidity; resting arid zone grasslands kills them, since these grasslands developed in a symbiotic relationship with huge numbers of herding animals, that moved forward in bunched groups to reduce predatory kills.
Unnatural fire and burning also kills grasslands. It gives off damaging pollutants and leaves the soil bare and exposed. Grasslands must go through biological breakdown and decay and that can only occur with natural animal impact and movement. When the grassland does not have the correct animal movement, the grass is not trampled, fertilised and flattened to form a protective mulch over the soil, so sunlight cannot reach the roots of the plants. This causes chemical oxidation and breakdown of the plants, which is when we have traditionally burnt the grasslands in order to clear them.
The holistic management framework introduces us to a new biological tool that can be used to regenerate grasslands: Living organisms (animal impact and grazing) which can be used to reverse desertification and restore biodiversity in brittle, or arid, environments.
The beauty of this holistic management framework is that it is literally a one-size-fits-all framework that individuals can apply, just as well as corporate businesses, to make sure we live our lives in line with what we want for the future. This means for me – healthy and happy children, growing up eating healthy, chemical and cruelty-free food, produced on healthy soil and irrigated with clean water, in a prosperous country with good health and education systems, happy people, and an abundance of thriving wildlife and biodiversity.
Blueprint for the future
Governments could apply the holistic management framework to form national holistic policies, which would make sure that all their policies and decisions are in line with what they, and their people, want for the future of their country, which should not be far off the example mentioned previously.
Our reductionist thinking and blind faith in technology, is destroying the natural world upon which we depend. The holistic framework management message needs to get to all the school children striking for climate change and demanding that something is done by the adults in charge. We need change and it is going to take a team effort to make that change. Humanity is the team.