Thursday, May 23, 2013

Can livestock really reverse desertification?

            Desertification is the process of a fertile area of land becoming increasingly dry to the point that it loses its water sources and its vegetation and wildlife. This is typically caused by climate change and human activity, such as overgrazing, deforestation and tilling the land for agriculture. Desertification is a problem that needs to be addressed soon.

The Sahel in Africa, one of the most environmentally degraded areas on earth.
            In Alan Savory’s TED talk, he describes his method of reversing desertification by using herds of livestock to mimic nature. These herds would help promote the biological decay of the grasses and plants by stomping, defecating, chewing, and spitting on them. It would also promote the soil’s ability to absorb water. In his TED talk, he claims that the livestock would not require any extra feed to compensate for the limited natural resources available to the livestock on the dried-out land.
            Unfortunately, as pointed out in James McWilliams’ article All Sizzle and No Steak, Savory has not had much luck reproducing his results in other areas of the world. McWilliams stated that “whereas Savory insists that his methods will revive grasses, ‘the most complete study in North America’ on the impact of holistic management on prairie grass found ‘a definite decline’ of plant growth on mixed prairie and rough fescue areas.” McWilliams also refers to other studies that have pointed out that Savory’s methods are either no better than other methods for management of desertification, or that his methods have actually led to desertification in some areas.
            I think that if Savory’s methods work in certain areas, then he should continue to implement them there. The fact is that these methods are not working everywhere. We should focus our efforts on ways to reverse desertification by looking at each area of land individually. Not all desertification is caused by the same thing, so one method will not work for each area. Savory believes that his methods will work in all areas, yet not all areas affected by desertification have the same climate, which is most likely why his methods are not reproducible in all areas. Desertification is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed. Savory’s methods might work in some areas, and should be used in those areas. Focus now needs to be shifted to new methods that will work in other areas.

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.    


Cattle help to Eliminate Deforestation

For many years scientists and others alike have come to the conclusion that overgrazing is the main cause of desertification. A biologist, Allan Savory, who recently gave a TED Talk about how to reverse desertification, gave a very compelling yet contradictory speech. He made the bold statement that by putting large cattle herds back on land that has been drying up, it would renew natural soil formation processes and reverse the desertification effect (Savory, 2013). His theology is that naturally thriving ecosystems that were present thousands of years ago used to have large herds of cattle. These cattle herds had populations that were managed by large pack hunters. In defense against predator attacks, the cattle lived and moved in extremely large groups. These densely packed cattle groups had to migrate and move across the land quite frequently because of the massive amounts of manure they would leave on top of their food source. Because of this added nutrients to the ground and the gentle trampling of the hooves, the grass was able to bio decay at a natural rate. This extra litter helped the soil retain more water during the rainy season. Nutrient rich soil is also able to store more carbon from the atmosphere, so it has multiply benefits. To put Savory's techniques to the test, different pieces of land were experimented on by increasing their cattle herds by up to 400%. The cattle were set to mimic nature by doing a planned grazing method that was lead and mapped out by a herd leader or farmer. The idea was to work with nature and change the land cover back to vegetated area at very little cost. In the TED video, Savory was able to show quite a bit of photos displaying his success rates. I admit that after watching the video I was inspired and had a new hope for places suffering from desertification. The methods seemed to be foolproof with little cost and high turnover rates. Nothing to lose there; until the review papers came out.
     James McWilliams wrote a review on Savory's TED talk and displayed some of the caveats of Savory's study in his article. McWilliams mentioned that Savory's study was done between 1969 and 1975 on a 6,200 acre piece of land in the African Country that is now called Zimbabwe. Is this small plot of land supposed to represent the whole world's desertification problems and solutions? The theories Savory discovers in his study seem to be legit in Africa, but do these methods work in the Middle East or in Russia? McWilliams also states that the animals that were being herded in the planned grazing cycle were stressed, fatigued, and had lost so much weight from constant migration that it wasn't even worth it to the land overs to sell the meat from the cattle. Because the cattle weren't getting enough food to sustain their massive movement patterns, the cattle ranchers had to buy expensive food to feed the cows and that made their meat no longer profitable (McWilliams, 2013).

    I agree with Savory's theories and ideas that we need to go back to the basics and do more natural processes to get the land fertile again, but it seems that the cattle are not used to such drastic migration patterns anymore. I think the cattle need to be eased into the migration process, even though the land cover change may be slower. It's not worth it to the farmers if their cattle are fatigued and losing weight. They need their cattle to be health so they can still make a profit on their meat. In a study done by Todd and Huffman, they investigated the difference between heavily grazed and lightly grazed farms and correlated that to the degree of species richness. Surprisingly they found no significant difference between the plant species richness in the heavily grazed plots verses the lightly grazed plots (Todd and Huffman, 1999). This could support my theory that we could use Savory's ideas about bringing back natural grazing patterns but the test areas would be lightly grazed and the cattle would migrate less frequently. Hopefully this would help with the cattles fatigue and stress and help them keep their weight up to a profitable level.

McWilliams, James. "All Sizzle and No Steak." Slate. (2013): n. page. Web. 21 May. 2013.
Savory, Allan. How to fight desertification and reverse climate change. 2013. video. TEDWeb. 20 May 2013.

Todd, S, Hoffman, M. 1999. “A fence-line contrast reveals effects of heavy grazing on plant diversity and community composition in Namaqualand, South Africa.” Plant Ecology. 142: 169-178.

Livestock: The Cause of and Solution to Desertification

  Biologist, environmentalist, former Zimbabwean parliament member, and winner of both the Banksia Award and Buckminster Fuller Challenge for his environmental work, Allan Savory is certainly deserving of a good a deal of respect.  In his March 2013 TED talk, Savory describes the work for which he was honored by the Banksia Environmental Foundation and the Buckminster Fuller Institute, work that centers around the development and study of what he calls Holistic Management, which is an approach to battling the forces of desertification by carefully managing livestock through grassland in a way that "mimics nature".

Savory's system revolves around the idea of reintroducing large groups of herding herbivores back into areas in which they have been lost. The animals are constantly moved in a way that simulates natural behavior of wild grazers which continually move in order to evade predators and seek ideal feeding and watering grounds. This movement causes trampling of grasses and gentle turning of topsoil, which allows the earth to hold water more efficiently. In addition to natural tilling, the animals supply nutrients and seed dispersal through bodily functions.

  Savory claims that this system of careful planned grazing is the only way to fight rapid desertification taking place around the globe. He encourages the human inhabitants of dried and drying out areas to raise more livestock and manage them according to his Holistic Management system to keep the land viable for generations to come.

Ahh, much nicer than desert!
While Savory's plan sounds great, and in his talk he supplies many appealing before-and-after photographs showing apparent success, he draws some serious criticism.

  James McWilliams provides some compelling arguments in this article from He claims that Savory's ideas are great in theory but are simply unrealistic and not as effective as Savory makes them out to be in his talk.

  McWilliams cites this compelling review which examines Savory's methods and concludes that no managed grazing system has been shown to fully reverse the effects of overgrazing and drought on a landscape, and that often large scale grazing efforts actually reduced land quality and led to unhealthy livestock. The review does however state that well managed, small scale grazing is the only system known to potentially stop desertification.

  Another compelling argument that McWilliams makes is that Savory makes little distinction between newly formed deserts and desert which have been around for eons. Deserts are often thriving ecosystems in their own right! Savory refers to desert algal crust as a "cancer," while many experts consider it to be quite normal  and a sign of a healthy arid ecosystem.

  Savory certainly knows what he's talking about, he has spent much of his life working on his Holistic Management program and has received major accolades for it, but his ideas may not be the be-all end-all of anti-desertification methods. 


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Holistic Management Means Hope for Sustainable Meat Production

In his TED talk, Allan Savory proposes holistic management of grazing livestock which goes against the popular idea that overgrazing leads to desertification. Savory,  proposes that the controlled and planned grazing of livestock by mimicking nature is the answer to the restoration of desertified land. The main goal is to increase the retention of water in the soil. He claims that with renewed ecosystems, CO2 sequestration will lead to preindustrial greenhouse  gas levels.

Savory takes heavy criticism from James McWilliams. McWilliams claims that Savory is advocating eating more meat. If anything he is advocating for more sustainable meat production by allowing livestock to live on the open land in large numbers, unlike our current livestock practices within industrial meat production. 
McWilliams also claims that Savory ignores the fact that some of these areas are ecologically thriving desert habitats. I don't believe these are the places Savory was speaking of. Of course desert flora will move into a space and thrive if it has been desertified. The areas Savory is focused on are ones in which grasslands thrived in years past and are in need of restoration in order to support the region and its people.
I do agree with McWilliams when he argues that, "It’s difficult to imagine how a human-managed ecosystem such as Savory’s—dependent on manipulating the genetics of livestock, building sturdy fences, manufacturing supplemental feed, and exterminating predators—is more representative of “nature’s complexity” than a healthy desert full of organisms that have co-evolved over millennia." I agree that mimicking the healthy ecology of grazing animals is very complex. Scientific study must oversimplify ideas in an attempt to understand them. The fact is that the organisms that had evoloved in that habitat have been destroyed so humans must do their best to restore it. A delicate balance must be struck and the long term effects of holistic management must be closely monitored in order to evaluate its positive or negative affects on the ecosystem.

An issue not addressed by Savory was the methane production by larger herds of livestock. Livestock production accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, including 9 percent of carbon dioxide and 37 percent of methane gas emissions worldwide (Cassandra Brooks). I believe holistic management can reduce these gases. Penn State found that the methane emissions of animals during a pre-settlement period in the United States was equal to 70% of current emmissions in the United States (Dr. Alexander Hristov, 2011). From this I can conclude that  increased livestock on open grasslands as an alternative to industrial meat production will lower emission.
As a vegetarian, access to meat that is raised humanely is appealing to me. Even though Savory was not advocating eat more meat, I would be much more willing to buy and eat meat from a system that is sustainably run. Lets bring back the cowboys(and girls). Ranching techniques used in conjunction with holistic management could be a viable alternative to the industrialized meat industry. Reviving ecosystems and renewing our climate with higher sequestration of carbon are exciting outcomes to a moral livestock and meat production infrastructure.  If Allan Savory were advocating eating more meat he meant for us to do it in support of holistic management.

Allan Savory. TED talk: "How to fight desertification and reverse climate change" Web:
Dr. Alexander Hristov, 2011. "Wild Ruminants Burp Methane, too" Web:
James McWilliams, 2013. "All Sizzle and No Steak: Why Allan Savory’s TED talk about how cattle can reverse global warming is dead wrong." Web:
Cassandra Brooks. "Consequences of increased global meat consumption on the global environment -- trade in virtual water, energy & nutrients" Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Web: 

Eat a Steak, Save the Planet

Allen Savory said the three words most men in this country have been longing to hear for years, "eat more meat." During his TED talk, How to fight desertification and fight climate change, Savory insists that the answer to the global issue of desertification is Holistic Management. By concentrating herds of animals like cattle or sheep, and allowing them to graze, he believes this will rejuvenate soil and provide healthy grasslands all while providing food for people who need it. Is eating meat the answer to all our environmental problems?  If so there are going to be a lot of angry vegans out there.

Desertification is a major problem that most people don't realize is even happening. According to the UN, "it is the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems by human activities-including unsustainable farming, mining, overgrazing and clear-cutting of land-and by climate change." When the top protective layer of grasses and trees are removed from the soil, it becomes loose and unstable and is highly suseptiable to wind and water erosion. After this precious topsoil is washed away all that is left is an infertile mix of dust and sand. Worldwide desertification could displace almost 50 million people in the next 10 years. 

Savory states that with strict management of herds and land we can actually use cattle and other grazing animals to bring back wild grasslands. By drastically increasing the size of a herd, by the thousands, what Savory calls "mimicking nature." Here the animals will urinate and defecate all over the ground, releasing nutrients into the soil and making it healthier. Better soil will support plants, and any seeds that may be passed through the animals could have a chance of being planted and survive. The key to this is that the animals must keep moving, so the material under them could be constantly turning over and releasing healthy nutrients. By recreating these grasslands Savory thinks we can create enough carbon absorption to offset the increased methane production from cattle and also halt global warming. 

As you can imagine, this is very controversial. James McWilliams' article on titled, All Sizzle and No Steak, says that Savory's theory is not only wrong, it's dead wrong. McWilliams discusses some of the results from Savory's test farms. And they don't all mimic the happy family pictures seen in his TED talk. Stating that during Savory's Charter Grazing Trials the animals actually became sick and that some lost so much weight that it compromised the animals profitability. Also, that the trials took place in "a freakishly high rainfall with rates exceeding the average by 24% or more." It seems that even with a little help from all the rain, Savory was unable to produce the numbers he had predicted. 

While I think that Savory has a good theory, I don't believe that it could work on the large scale he claims. The plan is so much more involved than just putting a bunch of animals on a seemingly dead piece of land. There are a lot of caveats to this method, and it's a new way of farming and treating the land. I guess it just seems to me that it's another factory farm technique, instead of being inside the cattle are cramped together in a field. For this system to work there has to be a strict line of equilibrium where the amount of cattle do not negatively affect the ecosystem they are trying to build. Like all things in life, there is a tipping point. After that point is passed animals become unhealthy and unprofitable and the land does not support the life it is supposed to.

However, the theory that creating grasslands, or increasing the plant material in areas suffering from desertification is a popular one. Debra C. Peters, et. al studied the effects that increased greenery had on precipitation events. In a nutshell she said that if you plant it, the rain will come. Just like most of our environmental issues there is never one answer. Just because the same thing is happening all over the world, doesn't mean there is one single answer to solve it. Every ecosystem that is affected has it's different problems and solutions. It's up to us to keep our minds open to all ideas on how to fix the world.

Allan Savory TED Talk
UN Desertification Page
Allan Savory Animation
James McWilliam's Article
Debra C. Peters et. al
Savory Institute

Desertification: Who's Right?

In Allan Savory's How to fight desertification and reverse climate change talk, he presents the idea that holistic management and organized grazing could bring to the recovery of deserted grasslands. At first he addressed the damage that grazing from animals brought to grasslands and that, in addition to climate change, this was one of the main causes of desertification.  Savory was so convinced that he and his colleagues killed over 40 thousand elephants in Africa. To their surprise, this did not help the desertification problem, and in fact it made it worse.  Savory made it his mission to find what the cause to desertification was and how we can fight it.  Some of his research leads him to believe that grazing animals are actually the solution to combating desertification.  Savory believes that reintroducing cattle to deserted grasslands with intense management will help carbon-sequestering grassland to regrow.

At first I found his idea intriguing.  He presented pictures of successful trials that seemed almost too good to be true. When being shown these pictures and introduced to this idea that increasing cattle grazing will not only benefit the food market, but also help fight desertification and climate change, it is hard not to be in awe.  Was it too good to be true?

After reading James McWilliam's blog post on Savory's talk, I was very conflicted.  I thought Savory's ideas were convincing, yet McWilliam's addresses many flaws in Savory's theory.  He states that, not only was rainfall 24 inches more than average in the period of trials, but authors of a review of Savory's trials conclude that there has been no grazing system able to overcome desertification of grasslands. McWilliam makes good points against Savory's ideas that have me second-guessing the hopeful idea of combating desertification.

Since I was conflicted between who was right in this debate, I referenced another review on desertification.  In Jerrold L Dodd's Desertification and degradation in Sub-Saharan Africa the overall consensus in that there is just not enough hard evidence to claim that planned grazing is a sufficient and effective solution to desertification.  I am inclined to think that, even though Savory's idea is intriguing, it is more of just an idealistic theory.  I seems that Savory's talk focused on the trials that proved his theory and did not include those that counteracted it.  As much as I would like to believe that Savory's methods would work, at this point in time I don't think that they are the sole solution to combating desertification.


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.

A Less Controversial Way to Stop Dessertification?

During his 2013 TED talk Allan Savory suggests that the best way to reverse desertification is to use livestock to mimic traditional herds of animals to turn over the soil. Savory completely believes in his method, called holistic management, and advocated for this solution about all others.

While many notable scientists and public figures side with his suggestion there are those that are hesitant about accepting this method hole heartedly. Some scientists point out that the methods have not been replicated in enough climates to ensure success while others doubt the significance of improvement in production. Others protest to the suggested 400% increase in livestock, citing issues with methane production and water quality. There are certainly many factors and consequences to consider before using this method on a large scale.

I think maybe finding a substitute for livestock to turn over the soil would be a good alternative that would have less unintended consequences. Savory said himself at the beginning of the talk that technology was certainly the way that we would stop using fossil fuels. While his solution is cost effective, perhaps a method a bit more high-tec would be better.

McWilliams, James. "All Sizzle and No Steak." Slate. (2013):Web. 21 May. 2013.

Are livestock our answer to desertification?

In February 2013, Allan Savory gave a Ted Talk concerning desertification of the earth, and he proposed a possible solution: holistic management and planned grazing. Holistic management and planned grazing is a "rangeland management system  that focuses on the planning and decision-making process to regenerate grassland ecosystem function while balancing economic and social objectives" (Kruger 2012). Basically, through the use of livestock, such as cattle and sheep, the desertified land is replenished through their droppings and feedings. Savory claims that the land needs the animals to be feeding on the desertified ground and leaving their droppings in large herds cyclicly for the land to reverse the desertification. In his talk he claims that this greatly increases crop production, but it also increases livestock populations by 400%. He also made the claim that the newly grown plants will be able to combat climate change by storing the excess methane and carbon, and removing it from the atmosphere. 

The idea of planned grazing seems like it would work in theory, but I am unsure of the actual effectiveness of this process. What I am concerned about is the large amount of methane that will be produced from the large increase in livestock brought to desertified areas. In the paper by Weber and Horst is in favor of planned grazing, yet it provides no actual scientific data to support it. Because there is no concrete data that I could find to support planned grazing, I feel like I cannot be in favor of it over other methods of reversing desertification. I think that more research needs to be done in multiple locations that have been desertified over many years to determine if it actually works, or if it is some sort of coincidence that has been happening. I think it would also be helpful to try other methods of reversing desertification in plots of land right next to plots that planned grazing is being tested on, to compare if planned grazing is effective enough, or if another method is. 

Works Cited:

"Reflections on Savory: The Science and the Philosophy." Organics. N.p., 20 Nov. 2012. Web. 22 May 2013.

Weber and Horst: Desertification and livestock grazing: The roles of sedentarization, mobility
and rest. Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice 2011 1:19.

Allan Savory's TED Talk regarding desertification proposes the idea that humans can combat desertification by introducing livestock into damaged areas and impose a system of "holistic management and planned grazing".  To put it simply, he believes that introducing a dense herd of livestock to a dry area and walking them around every day will stimulate the soil, provide it with nutrients, and restore it to fertile land.  I firmly disagree.

I side with James McWilliams' article, "All Sizzle and No Steak", where he describes how Savory's methods and data are shoddy at best, and his results have not been reliably replicated by other environmentalists.  One of the key features to a good scientific experiment is solid repeatability: other scientists should be able to reliably repeat your experiments and, ideally, obtain the same results.  According to McWilliams, this is not the case with Savory's experiments, citing the Charter Grazing Trials, which said that "'more often than not' intensive systems marked by the constant rotation of densely packed herds of cattle led to a decline in animal productivity while doing nothing to notably improve botanical growth".  McWilliams then went on to describe several other experiments around the globe which attempted Savory's techniques and were all unsuccessful.

Sloppy and unreliable science aside, the problem with Savory's methods that perhaps stuck out to me the most was the issue of methane production.  Savory casually and quickly stated that the grass that would be generated from his restoration techniques would easily counteract the effects of the methane production of the livestock, cattle in particular.  I find that this is not at all the case.  McWilliams states that the world's oceans and plants only process half of the total amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by human activity each year.  While the majority of that carbon is in the form of carbon dioxide, cattle and other livestock are notorious for producing large amounts of methane, which compared molecule-to-molecule with carbon dioxide, produces a greenhouse effect 21 times more powerful.  This means that the increase in livestock that Savory proposes would have an extremely negative impact on climate change and would contribute to global warming.

While Savory's presentation and methods look appealing and promising at first glance, they are quite disappointing in reality.