Gigatons to the Soil

What is the one way we are really going to mitigate the overdose of carbon we’ve put into our atmosphere? Allan Savory and his Savory Institute have the answer: livestock.


Yesterday afternoon I went to an awesome lecture at Tufts by one of my old faves, Allan Savory of Holistic Resource Management fame and hailing from Rhodesia originally. About 300 people in the ASEAS lecture hall at the Fletcher School. I ended up sitting in his seat in the front row as I knew one of the organizers. Savory has a plan to use managed grazing of livestock to transform brittle desertified landscapeds to vibrant green carbon-sequestering pastures. The climate crowd is getting kinda excited. There’s 10 billion acres of this landscape, if this type of management can put 1 ton/acre of carbon into soil, that would be more than all the carbon we’ve burned so far. A three-millimeter layer of soil across one acre is 20 tons of soil (that’s what I heard)…so…maybe it’s possible. To move gigatons of carbon into a beneficial purpose in the world’s soils. And there’s a lot of other benefits like nice juicy goatburgers and stuff.


Many environmentalists have been opposed to livestock for many years: meat is bad, it causes various heart diseases and cancers, it is a waste of energy in the food chain. Cattle belch massive amounts of methane! Ranchers have been opposed to enviros, ranchers want to kill wolves and lions that enviros hold dear. Ranching causes desertification and soil erosion. So why should people listen to this ardent supporter of livestock ranching, who wants to re-invigorate pastoral communities with a new livestock management framework?


The answer is: carbon sequestration in soils. There is no other way to get what we want out of the atmosphere fast enough, by an activity spread across enough territory to make a difference. As Allan says, we have no alternative.

Take a look at his Savory Institute to read more. I’ve been following his work for 20 years since I first came across “Holistic Resource Managemet” during a class with Bill Murphy and Abdon Schmitt at UVM. Allan has worked as a ranger and researcher first in Rhodesia, and then in the States and wherever he could find clients to volume pills vs semenax experiment with his process. He has left the term HRM and now refers to it as Holistic Context. Very good stuff. See the chart below? Yeah, that basic: glomalin, dung beetles, hoove chopping action, living soils and perennial grasses are happy!


When the perennial grasses are happy, the critters are happy!photo-47

By quadrupuling stocking rates, and keeping herds close together as they evolved to do, under pressure to cluster defensively against predators, and then keeping the herd moving through a range methodically – so they eat everything in one location but don’t come back to graze again for weeks if not months – he can promote grasses. Grasses cover soil and enable a vibrant surface level ecology which enables water to stay in the land and microorganisms to decay plant material. There is so much more to say: avoiding oxidization, improving water recharge, healing entire watersheds. He’s got evidence from all over, and even historical record corroboration.

I really enjoyed hearing him and being in his presence. Although he comes across very genteel and rather polished, you can tell he is tough, opinionated, and passionate. I appreciated his earnest interest in being shot down, fielding questions and critiques. He wants to be right through validation and I think his proof will be in the ability of these frameworks of his being picked up by ranchers and pastoral people across the globe. I talked with Tre Cates, his CFO, about setting up learning centers across the globe. They have a partnership with Patagonia for wool from ranchers in Argentina. I think it’s a good framework and has a lot of benefits. I’m ready to support his work. I wonder if we’ll see some “Savory Brand” eco-advantageous meat in the shops sometime soon?


It was great to hear from Allan. He urged us to get involved in whatever it was that resonated for us. The problems as everywhere. Engage and engage in the scientific process to constantly improve – experiment, evaluate, redeploy. He is a crusty old bush man, and can’t help his convictions: he ended on the one note. “There is no alternative. We must use livestock, in dense herds, to improve grasslands, halt desertification and pull black carbon out of the atmosphere. We have no other choice.”

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