Holistic Land Management: Key to Global Stability
Interview by Mary Hoff
You have been working on the problems associated with climate change for many years, but from the point of view of agriculture. Why focus on farming?
People in all walks of life and especially business do not want to experience the collapse of cities like New York along with global finance and economy in chaos, but this is what business faces if we continue to attribute climate change to fossil fuels alone. Agriculture is not crop production as popular belief holds—it's the production of food and fiber from the world's land and waters. Without agriculture it is not possible to have a city, stock market, banks, university, church or army. Agriculture is the foundation of civilization and any stable economy.
Today agriculture in the U.S. and globally is producing far more eroding soil than food, destroying massive amounts of biomass and accelerating desertification over most of the world's land area. Desertification is a symptom of available rainfall becoming less effective due to soil exposure between plants, mainly in the vast grasslands of the world. Apart from the soil loss, exposed soil changes microclimate—and with over half the world's land exhibiting more than 75 percent exposed soil between plants, macroclimate is affected as well. Looked at broadly, agriculture is causing climate change as much as, and possibly more than, fossil fuels.
Does this mean that if we were to eliminate all carbon emissions, climate change would still persist?
If we—as we must—successfully eliminate all emissions from fossil fuels, climate change with ever-more violent weather without question will continue to be exacerbated by agriculture. We today struggle to provide food and water for 7 billion people, to which we are adding another 2 billion or more mouths as we simultaneously destroy the ability of the world's soils to sequester both carbon and water. The problem of a rising population destroying more than four tons of soil for every human already alive needs to find its way into corporate board rooms if we are to enjoy future financial, economic and political stability.
What can we do to reverse this threat?
Many are already aware of the problems associated with arable croplands decreasing in productivity, so let me talk about the greater neglected land areas that even Bill Gates' new call for another Green Revolution is missing. About 82 percent of the world's land is non-cropland agriculture only capable of feeding people from livestock or wildlife. Over these vast regions the land is desertifying, resulting in increasing droughts, floods, poverty, social breakdown, emigration to city slums, pastoral cultural genocide and recruitment to terrorist organizations as well as climate change. Almost all of this is blamed on livestock. The manner in which we have managed livestock for centuries results in both carbon and water moving from soil to atmosphere, and to soil life being less able to break down methane.
In the 1960s, realizing that only livestock could reverse desertification, I developed a consistently successful grazing planning process that mimics nature using livestock so that both carbon and water move from atmosphere to soil and soil life is more able to break down methane. No technology even imaginable would be able to accomplish this feat on the scale and with the frequency needed—but well-managed animals can readily do so.
The fate of the vast areas of grasslands—about two-thirds of the world's land—will control the fate of all business within a relatively few years unless corporate boards and CEOs become more aware of the situation and the opportunity offered. Thus, it is no exaggeration to say the entire fate of humanity hangs on this slender thread: proper management of livestock over most of the Earth's land.
What is most significant is that the solution does not require vast capital outlays, but rather, education and training in a low-technology, high-knowledge strategy that greatly increases profitability. Because the areas of land involved in non-cropland agriculture on all continents are so vast, the economic, the political and military significance is simply mind-blowing.
Holistic Resource Management Founder Allan Savory
In the 1960s, long before we developed the awareness we have today of the importance of a healthy environment to a healthy economy and a healthy society, Allan Savory was promoting the principles of sustainability. An African-born game ranger/biologist, politician and international consultant, Savory introduced the concept of holistic management as a framework for feeding the world while protecting the ecosystem services that make civilization possible. Today Savory continues his work as founder and president of the Savory Institute, which seeks to apply proper livestock management to restore the world's grasslands. He visited with Momentum and Terry Waghorn of Forbes recently about the importance of holistic land management to global well-being.
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Last modified on December 27, 2012