Last month I published a mammoth diary which reintroduced the concept of agroecology and presented the design framework known as Holistic Management.
The premise? Livestock are not inherently destructive to their immediate environment and the climate.
In fact, livestock can play a critical role in ecosystem and hydrological restoration, carbon sequestration, and poverty alleviation when managed properly.
This diary's purpose is to keep Holistic Management and the larger field of agroecology on your radar without swamping your screen with information. If you want the longer version, please see the diary from last month.
Without running to Google, take a wild guess who had this to say about the practice:
Done right, some studies suggest, this method of raising cattle could put much of the atmosphere’s oversupply of greenhouse gases back in the soil inside half a century. That means shifting from feedlot farming to rotational grazing is one of the few changes we could make that’s on the same scale as the problem of global warming. It won’t do away with the need for radically cutting emissions, but it could help get the car exhaust you emitted back in high school out of the atmosphere.[emphasis added]
That would be Bill McKibben with "The Only Way to Have a Cow", published in the March/April 2010 issue of Orion Magazine.1 I am glad to know that Mr. McKibben looked into this topic himself and felt compelled enough by the evidence to make such a strong statement in support of Holistic Management.
[edit: After forwarding this diary to Seth Itzkan, he promptly reminded me of the necessity to be precise with language. With McKibben's article, and especially what I emphasized in bold: rotational grazing does not equate to Holistic Management. There are very many grazing plans out there and it is easy to confuse, conflate, or compound them due to seemingly superficially practices. I want everyone to remember that (as I similarly state in the conclusion):
In all cases, this is grazing based on a planning methodology that deals with many facets, including the animals, the ecosystem, and the needs of people (thus, it is "holistic"). It is not a grazing system, but a planning process.-Quoted from Mr. Itzkan's email to me
Even though rotational grazing and Holistic Management are not the same, the potential for carbon sequestration via application of Holistic Management's design framework is very real. And it can be argued very strongly that Holistic Management is the most effective of the many different grazing plans around. So let us be aware that there are many ideas afloat and not to assume that one thing equals another. [hat tip to Mr. Itzkan for bringing this to the fore]
1. I heard about this article from Adam Sacks, "The Fight Against Global Warming: A Failure and A Fix." Please note that address for this article is only meant to be temporary, until Mr. Sacks can find permanent publication.
Climate Change, Livestock, and Holistic Management
As many of you may know, I am a fan of very long diaries. Diaries so long that I think most people just look at how small the scroll box becomes and say, "No thanks." My favorite character from the Lord of the Rings will always be Treebeard. I wrote such a long account of American history for my Finnish homework this morning that I missed
my bus two buses to school. I am so long winded that... oh ... right.
Sorry about that.
I have three items regarding Holistic Management that I wish to bring to the community this month.
-A nearly eight minute TEDx talk given presented by Seth Itzkan, titled: Reversing global warming with livestock?
-The article I linked to above, "The Fight Against Global Warming: A Failure and A Fix" by Adam Sacks
-Occam's Grazer, a documentary recently released by raincrow film.
I promise that this diary appears longer than it actually is.
Reversing Global Warming With Livestock?
In seven minutes and fifty four seconds, Seth Itzkan delivers a very good case for Holistic Management.
Mr. Itzkan spent six weeks with the Africa Centre for Holistic Management (ACHM) in Zimbabwe to study this system's benefits. Within the first two minutes he begins showing side-by-side comparisons which clearly demonstrate the many benefits of Holistic Management. These images are exactly what need to be seen by people to show the healing power of biomimicry (a very important aspect of Holistic Management).
Where his talk differs from the one I presented in the past diary (besides length, of course), is the evidence presented at 2:36.
Screen Capture from 2:38: Surface water level changes at the ACHM ranch
Yes, that is right: nearly a mile up river- 30ft of elevation change, almost as high as the average three story building, the ranch now has surface water during the dry season.
Wait, wait!!! Everyone knows that livestock always guzzle down water like armored humvees blitzing through Iraqi deserts! How can they possibly be restoring hydrological function?
Well, when managed properly, the ecosystem services they provide include increasing water infiltration of the soil through hoof action as well as increasing biomass in the soil through organic fertilization and plant growth stimulation. It works so well that:
There's new watering holes for cattle and they no longer have to run the pumps during the dry season.[emphasis added]
I urge you to watch the entirety of Mr. Itzkan's presentation. I believe he makes the case for his "takeaways":
1. Changing livestock management can restore grasslands.[emphasis original]
2. We need to restore grasslands to reverse global warming.
The Fight Against Global Warming: A Failure and A Fix
Mr. Sacks is a veteran climate activist who is truly worried about our future. In this article, Mr. Sacks not only argues that we need to begin storing carbon in the soil now, but he challenges us- us being environmental campaigners- to remove the ideological blinders we have regarding livestock in order to make use of their rapid soil carbon sequestration ability.
His most challenging idea, however is that:2
While we should at least make an effort to aim national treasuries at survival strategies,Now, if you are having a hard time imagining that livestock could possibly play a role- let alone a key role- in fighting climate change, this suggestion is probably not going to go over well. I am not sure if I agree with it or not. I must admit the notion is still unpalatable after chewing for a while.
here's another idea as well, albeit perhaps unpalatable at first glance: big bucks from the
coal, oil and gas industry.
Whether it's a good idea or not is something we should consider and debate.
But I should note that he is not aruging that we should accept money from the fossil fuel industry as a means of white washing the industry's environmental impacts. He gives five specific reasons why we should consider approaching them to help sequester carbon as a means to:
Pull out all the stops and put carbon back into the ground - the way nature does it3
We can do this, but only if we begin to challenge some deep rooted ideas held within our movement. Mr. Sacks' article is well worth the read- very stimulating and I very much, again, urge you to take the time to engage with it. Hopefully it will be published on its own sometime in the near future.
2. Sacks, 11. Emphasis original.
3. Sacks, 12. Emphasis original.
Occam's Grazer & Conclusion
At 46:32, Occam's Grazer is anything but short. Kind of like my diaries. But I am happy I put this diary off in time for it to be posted over at Permaculture News. The documentary crew follows four ranchers and farmers in the Pacific NW to ask them about their experiences with Holistic Management.
If you think you have seen it all by now- between Savory's lecture and Itzkan's talk, let me assure you that you have only just scratched the surface. What you will discover in this documentary is that Holistic Management isn't just about moving livestock around paddocks.
Holistic Management is a decision making framework which helps farmers and ranchers (and even non agriculturalists) develop their goals and gives them the tools to help them accomplish them.
Holistic Management brings hope to those who see their enterprises, family owned farms, and lives spiraling out of control due to the inherent unsustainability of modern industrialized agriculture. These individuals, along with thousands of others, have begun to turn around their financial situation. They often see results within a few years.
Passion, joy, and contentment return once again when these methods are faithfully employed.
Desertification can be halted and reversed. Centuries old cultures can be preserved.
Lives are saved. Not just human, but animals as well. Let us not forget the plants either: diversity and health return. Insect populations begin to balance. Ecosystem health and functions can and are being restored with these methods. That means more water underground, in our rivers, and ultimately- a greener planet.
The very roots of anthropogenic climate change- ecosystem malfunction caused by human activity- are severed and the seeds of regeneration of ecosystems and culture are sown.
This is Holistic Management.
[I really need to clean this up, perhaps by my next diary.]
Excellent, must see documentary: John Liu's Green Gold- extended version of "Hope in a Changing Climate" that was presented at the recent Rio summit. I'll have to do a diary on this documentary. It is astounding.
There are some excellent video presentations from last year's International Permaculture Convergence held in Jordan, which followed a permaculture design course taught at the world-renowned "Greening the Desert Part II" site in the Dead Sea Valley. Here is a link to the documentary about the site, and here is a photo update from 2011 (around the time of the Convergence). John Liu's Green Gold also features the site and is probably newer than the 2011 pictures. If you scroll to the bottom of this webpage, you will find links to video presentations given at the convergence. Most were delivered in Bedouin tents near Wadi Rum.
You can also find a few more great documentaries in the first diary of this series- one about rainforest restoration to provide habitat for orangutans and a standard of living for the local people using agroecological methods as well as a documentary about Sepp Holzer, a very famous Austrian noted for his ability to cultivate citrus in the Alps.
My favorite books:
Edible Forest Gardens, Vol I and II. David Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. Chelsea Green, 2006.
Sepp Holzer's Permaculture. Sepp Holzer, translated by Anna Sapsford-Francis. Chelsea Green, 2010.
Gaia's Garden. Toby Hemenway. Chelsea Green, 2009 (2nd edition).
Let the Water Do the Work. Bill Zeedyk and Van Clother. The Quivira Coalition, 2009.
The One Straw Revolution. Masanobu Fukuoka. Link will point you to a decent review.
Akinori Kimura's Miracle Apples. By Takuji Ishikawa, translated by Yoko Ono. This is an absolutely fantastic story. My favorite part is towards the end, chapter 22, when Kimura is told of his family's first success. Give it a read!
For a much fuller list of books on the subject, see Toby Hemenway's Permaculture Reading List. The article I linked to up top is also a great read.
There are plenty of materials online as well.
The Permaculture Research Institute is excellent (Updated: formerly PRI Australia). With almost daily updates from the world of permaculture (an ethical design system that utilizes agroecology), this site is on my "must check list" daily. Good news to be found here.
The Land Institute. Their goal is to develop highly productive perennial staple crops which will produce a living system as stable as natural prairies. This is the kind of pioneering research we should be funding. H/T to sfinx for bringing them up.