Biodiversity protectionCarbon captureReversing desertificationSustainable agriculture

Greening deserts with Holistic Management

Savory Institute’s (surprising) approach to grassland regeneration

Allan Savory has spent his whole life trying to understand the phenomenon of desertification, and in the late 60’s he devised a brilliant solution, which is helping to reduce the loss of fertile land and CO2, as well as to make land more productive at the same time. Does this look too good to be true?

Actually, Savory’s approach works, and, at the time of writing, it is already regenerating more than 10 million hectares of grassland in all continents. His ‘regenerative’ perspective on land management is intended to go even beyond sustainability, being its aim to renew natural systems, instead of keeping them the same.

Australia before and after. Courtesy of the Savory Institute
Australia before and after. Courtesy of the Savory Institute

Holistic management

The approach Savory proposed is called ‘Holistic Management’ and, as stated by the Savory Institute, it is intended to ‘restores grasslands. Healthy grasslands lead to carbon sequestration, drought resilience, food security, and financially viable communities. At Savory, we believe the solution to these pressing world issues is that management of our land, livestock, and people must be holistic’.

Holistic Managemet reaches Uruguay. Courtesy of the Savory Institute.
Holistic Management reaches Uruguay. Courtesy of the Savory Institute

Allan Savory’s 2013 TED talk, presenting the story and the reasoning behind his idea, is still among the top 100 TED talks of all times. In his speech Savory explains that in his younger years he had been carrying out experiments with many strategies, trying to reduce desertification, but apparently, the more he was doing, the worse the result. Such ruinous attempts were all grounded on traditional concepts about land management, and in particular on the idea that livestock’s pure existence is a detriment to the environment. In essence, all his tries, some entailing extremely hard (as he acknowledges) decisions, were increasing desertification instead of reducing it, and hence they were contributing even more to climate change.

It was after all this struggle and pain that he came up with one ‘unthinkable’ option: to mimic nature using cattle, then turning the traditional thinking about it upside down. In this innovative scenario, livestock (‘bunched and moving’) is intended to be used to simulate the action of wild large herds of herbivores tightly bunched and moving due to the predatory pressure, stepping on grass and depositing dung and urine. When such conditions are mimicked, grasses begin to regrow and through photosynthesis, soil life returns. What happens next is that ‘soil is ready to absorb and hold the rain, to store carbon, and to break down methane’.

The revolutionary aspect of this approach is its ‘holistic’ view. ‘Holistic planned grazing’, done by accurately planning, monitoring and re-adjusting grazing schedules on each piece of land, is designed to account for the needs of land, animals, and people at the same time. Its core concept is that the number of animals should match forage availability and that precise planning has to be defined so as to honor the recovery rates of the grasses.

Healthier land reduces CO2, allows to feed animals better and improves food production, making human communities richer at the same time. This is how Holistic Management is (surprisingly) able to trigger a cycle that benefits both environment, economic development and social wealth at the same time.

How to support

  • You can support the Savory Institute by donating. On average $30 allows Savory to bring Holistic-Management regenerative grazing practices to 100 acres of land
  • Do you want to be part of the Savory Institute’s Global Network and get exclusive perks? Then you are ready to become a ‘Savory regeneration member‘!
  • If you wish to roll up your sleeves and become a hub leader in your region, then you may be interested in the Savory Hub program
  • Brands and retailers can participate in the Land-to-Market program, accessing the Verified Regenerative Supplier Roster for meat, dairy, wool, and leather
  • Shop Holistic Management essentials, including books and courses, at Savory Marketplace
  • You can follow the Savory Institute on          
  • You can support the Savory Institute even by simply sharing this article on your favorite social networks. Spread the word!

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