The Grasslands: Nice to Visit, Critical to Save
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Help us save the grasslands, stop climate change, fight desertification, and end world poverty.
It’s true. The grasslands may not seem like the world’s hottest eco destination. They’re not as colorful as the rainforests or coral reefs. But you don’t have to visit the grasslands to understand the power these ecosystems hold. Like the power to reverse climate change. The power to prevent floods, fire, drought, famine, and violence. And even the power to end world poverty. But through mismanagement, the world’s grasslands are transforming into sandy wastelands.
The Savory Institute is at the forefront of the fight to save the grasslands. But we can’t do it without you.
Since our founding in 2009, we have been working tirelessly to restore the natural cycles of the grasslands. The engine driving this restorative process? Grazing animals like cattle, sheep, and goats, properly managed. These animals till and fertilize the earth. Their manure combines with decomposing vegetation to build soil, preventing erosion and flooding. Grass flourishes, removing more carbon from the atmosphere. And land managers can raise more nutrient-dense food to feed the world.
All of this is made possible via a revolutionary process called Holistic Management, which empowers managers to make wise decisions about their land. How do we spread the word about this process? Physical spaces called Savory Hubs, located in key areas around the world.
These hubs are built and run by local innovators and entrepreneurs on the cutting edge of land management. They’re an invaluable resource for other managers in the region — a reservoir of information, training, demonstration, and fresh thinking around regenerative and profitable management. We support these hubs by giving them the tools and resources to help land managers succeed.
Each Savory Hub impacts 10 million hectares (24 million acres) of land. By 2025, we’ll have everything in place to impact 1 one billion hectares — the critical mass needed to start reversing climate change. But big changes take small steps. Our goal is to see the creation of 10 new Savory Hubs each year. Your donations will help make the next generation of hubs a reality. Together, we can reverse climate change, end global hunger, and save the grasslands from turning into wastelands.
Currently, the intergovernmental efforts centered on climate change focus solely on reducing emissions from burning fossil fuels. While this absolutely MUST happen, it does nothing to address the legacy load of greenhouse gases already in our atmosphere. Without a way to remove the existing carbon dioxide and other warming agents from the atmosphere, our planet is doomed. We’re currently seeing the effects with massive storms, floods and droughts. Those effects are only going to get worse.
You may have seen our founder, Allan Savory, in his TED Talk which has become one of the top 100 most viewed TED talks of all time with nearly 3.5 million views on the TED site alone.
Some of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists and brightest minds have sought to develop carbon capture technology that pulls carbon out of the air and either puts it to use in manufacturing or stores it away safely. While some technologies along these lines have been explored, the reality is that none of them can begin to address the problem on a global scale, and all are likely to be accompanied by unintended consequences.
The solution must be biological. We must look to natural processes recognizing that all life is made up of carbon that cycles between Earth and its atmosphere. Utilizing the power of sunlight, through the process of photosynthesis, plants remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from our atmosphere and with water (H2O) from the soil, form complex carbohydrates (sugars) – the carbon comes from the CO2 and the hydrogen from the H2O to form those carbohydrates. What’s left over is oxygen which is released back into the atmosphere. And low-and-behold we and all the other mammals on this planet are hooked on the stuff. So with the current overload of CO2 in the atmosphere, and our need to breathe, we want as much photosynthesis to happen as possible.
Although all plants photosynthesize, no vegetation type beats grasses, which cover a greater area of the earth’s landmass than any other. And if that wasn’t enough, unlike forests, grasslands store most of the carbon they sequester from the atmosphere deep under the soil surface as organic matter, which actually increases fertility and enhances soil life in countless ways. That is why the great grain growing regions of the world are former grasslands, not forests.
Grasslands are the most important ecosystem for human civilization. When healthy, they purify the air, absorb and filter water and allow it to infiltrate back into underground reservoirs, they support immeasurable wildlife and biodiversity, and they build the deepest most fertile soils on the planet.
Grasslands are also home to more than 1 billion people who depend on them for their food and livelihoods.
What is Holistic Planned Grazing?
Surprisingly though, grasses need to be grazed to thrive. At first it may sound counter-intuitive, but in areas of the world that receive intermittent rainfall and humidity, nature employs grazers to assist in biological decay. Grazers carry healthy colonies of microbes in their rumen. These microbes have a symbiotic relationship with their herbivorous hosts in that they are able to digest the grass for the animals in exchange for a warm, moist, dark place to thrive, kind of like a microbial womb.
In the past, large wild herds of herbivores such as caribou, buffalo, or wildebeest occupied the grasslands – grazing, defecating, stomping and salivating as they moved across them. Over time, most wild herds disappeared and were replaced by humans and their small numbers of sedentary livestock. Without the timely stomping and excrement of large numbers of animals, and the subsequent period of recovery when animals moved on, the cycle of biological decay in these grasslands was interrupted and the once-rich soils and thriving prairies began to degrade. Many of the grass plants were left ungrazed. Their dried-off leaves blocked sunlight from reaching the growth buds at their bases and they started to die. Much of the soil surface was left unbroken and unfertilized, making it difficult for new grass seedlings to establish.
But we all have been taught that grazing animals, particularly domestic livestock, can do great damage to landscapes. We’ve seen it from our cars as we zoom down the highway and the denuded countryside hums by. The difference is that domestic livestock are usually scattered, rather than bunched in herds, and remain in one place. At times they are rotated among pastures, but their rotations move too quickly or too slowly to match the needs of the plants, soils, and other life forms. Worse yet, Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) move all the animals to one place, transport feed too them and haul away their wastes. These industrial animal factories are prone to disease and are a source of air and water pollution that adversely affects the communities neighboring them.
Grasslands need to be properly grazed and grazing animals need to be on the grasslands. To mimic nature the animals need to be bunched and moving to provide the plants enough time to fully recover between grazings. Nature does this by using predator pressure to keep the grazing animals constantly traveling and impacting new areas of land. Domestic livestock need humans with smart and comprehensive, holistic plans and great execution.
So Holistic Planned Grazing is much more than rotational grazing and grass-finishing livestock. It means land managers are planning for a whole lot of considerations, including the desired outcomes for their land, livestock, wildlife, and business, as well as their family’s quality of life. They plan the movement of the livestock as much as a year in advance, and re-plan on-goingly as they test their progress toward the achievement of those desired outcomes – day in and day out.
A recent study conducted in Australia demonstrated a 400% increase in permanent soil carbon on land under Holistic Planned Grazing, relative to the neighboring land managed conventionally.
Increased Water Supply
On degraded or exposed land, water evaporates or runs off instead of soaking into the soil where it is available for plants and living organisms and recharges water tables. This runoff and evaporation leads to the increasing frequency and severity of floods and droughts – even if there has been no change in rainfall in a specific region.
Holistic Planned Grazing helps cover the soil surface, a crucial first step in stopping degradation. Reduction of bare ground improves the effectiveness of the available rainfall by minimizing evaporation and runoff. Productivity increases, and with it organic matter in the soil, which in turn increases its ability to hold water, reducing the risk of floods and droughts. Case studies have shown a 40% increase in water holding capacity on land under Holistic Planned Grazing compared to adjacent land that had no grazing on it.
Food Security and Poverty
In the world’s vast grasslands, livestock production is the primary source of food production. Healthier land can support more livestock, and more livestock, means more wealth. When managed holistically in conjunction with livestock, case studies have shown a 4x increase in profitability* as a result of better soil and land health.
Properly managed livestock can be incorporated into cropping systems as well. Prior to planting, a concentrated herd moves through a cropfield, the hooves breaking up the soil surface and trampling down crop residues to cover the soil, and dung and urine fertilizing it. This treatment promotes good germination, enhances water infiltration, decreases evaporation, and eliminates the need for additional fertilizers, plowing or ripping. Communal farmers using the technique in Africa have increased maize yields by over 350% with no additional inputs.
SOIL CARBON COWBOYS from Peter Byck on Vimeo.
Holistic planned grazing is successful because it is cost-effective, highly scalable and nature-based. It is sustainable because it increases wealth and quality-of-life for landowners without compromising the long-term viability of the resource base.
The Savory Institute focuses its work on grasslands for all the reasons outlined above. We believe grasslands provide the greatest hope for ensuring our climate remains conducive to human life.
For the sake of humanity’s future, our species must come together and recognize soil as the only scalable and suitable vessel for the excess carbon in our atmosphere. Healthy soil is a living dynamic ecosystem and it is the foundation of life on Earth. It is the basis for a sustainable and productive agriculture.
In the air carbon in the form of carbon dioxide is a liability, heating our planet to dangerous levels. In the soil it is a source of fertility, holding onto water, and supporting more life. For these reasons we have started a multi-partner initiative called Soil for Climate, and have launched the #SoilManifesto in conjunction with the COP21 climate talks in Paris. Our aim is to unite Team Humanity in demanding that our governments begin looking at grassland soils as the ultimate carbon sink, and a crucial part of the solution to climate change.
To achieve lasting success and reverse our world’s current trajectory towards impending doom, Savory Institute recognizes that we must have united global action. For years the holistic management movement, including organizations before ours, trained individuals and equipped them with the tools to change their own lives and land. But these individuals did not have the resources or the support network to unite across continents and truly become a movement. Six years ago when the Savory Institute was formed, its sole task was to develop strategies and tools to orchestrate a truly global movement. It is the only way to effectively change the existing paradigm about grassland soils and livestock’s role in keeping them healthy.
What is a Hub
To create the level of change necessary to start moving our planet toward global-scale soil regeneration and thriving grasslands, we realized we needed to cultivate a worldwide network of teams of entrepreneurial people working within their own cultural context.
Each node or Hub, as we call them, could act as a change-agent offering Holistic Management trainings, one-on-one consulting, and on-going contextually relevant implementation support. They would also provide local managers with the tools needed to properly measure the health of the land and track its progress. They would become the representatives in their region of our organization as well as a much larger movement that their local and state governments could access. They would also play the role of entrepreneurial incubators, and project managers, developing enterprises in both established and emerging markets that provide triple-bottom-line returns for land managers in their area.
Over the last 6 years, our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) – our Hub dream – has become a reality. We now have close to 40 partners that have become Savory Network Hubs or are in the process of being accredited. They include individuals, non-profits, for-profits, NGOs, and cooperatives – there is no one type of organization. Each Hub goes through a year-long on-boarding process. During this time they get facilitation training on how to be good trainers and influencers in their community. The get the most up to date training in Holistic Management, plus training in business management and marketing, including one-on-one coaching as they develop their business plans. We also connect Hubs through a communications platform that enables the network as a whole to sharpen and enhance each Hub’s skills.
Armed with the Savory Institute’s curriculum and state of the art data management tools, each Hub makes its own plan on how to impact its region and to be financially sustainable in providing local solutions to land degradation, food and water security, and community empowerment.
Each Hub has a holistically managed demonstration site, where all aspects of Holistic Management, including Holistic Planned Grazing, are embraced. These sites serve as a training venue and learning laboratory, but also as a center of action, research and excellence. They give local people of all skill levels a place to gather and commune with the land, learn the holistic planning processes at their own pace, and expand their knowledge and skills in a safe environment with no risk to their own livelihood.
Join Us in Creating a Future of Hope
With your gift you’ll be helping us empower pastoralists, ranchers and farmers around the globe through the establishment of Hubs to assist them in their efforts. You’ll help us reach even further into some of the world’s most remote regions, to help bring the most refined tools and curriculum to the 500 million family farmers feeding the majority of the world’s population.
In the hustle and bustle of everyday life it’s easy to forget the environment we depend on. But we ask you to please consider helping us save the grasslands in your year-end giving.
The time is now. There is nothing more important for the sake of humanity than reversing climate change and desertification and the solution is so simple. We don’t need to develop new technology, or vast infrastructure, or pool the world’s resources, or amass inconceivable treasuries. We simply need to reach land managers and show them how they can modify the use of the tools and resources they have now.
Over the last few decades, Allan Savory and the Savory Institute have had success on every habitable continent and positively impacted over 50 million hectares already. Just since 2013 when we launched our Hub strategy, over 10 million hectares have been positively influenced. With our burgeoning network of thriving Hubs that number is now growing exponentially!
Join us in restoring the health of the grasslands, regenerating soils, and reversing climate change.
At Circle Ranch we are running 500 heifers this winter. We move them daily to fresh feed placed where we want animal impact.
Circle Ranch’s New Heifers October 2015 from Christopher Gill on Vimeo.
We want to give a special thanks to the following people:
Free Range Studios for producing the video bumper and visual graphics
Gabe Golden and Golden Productions for producing our video
TED for their production of the infographic series
Peter Byck and Carbon Nation for allowing us to feature their clip Soil Carbon Cowboys
Seth Itzkan for allowing us to use some of his footage
for The Grasslands: Nice to Visit, Critical to Save and Chris Kerston!