Sustainability in Agriculture – Desertification and Re-Growing Fresh Grass Using Cattle

According to Allan Savory a research biologist, about two-thirds the surface of the earth is experiencing desertification. This phenomenon has led to the migration of tribes and communities to other more fertile areas. The causes of desertification are numerous most of which are related to the activities of man. A brief list of the causes include, “climate change, deforestation, overgrazing, poverty, political instability, unsustainable irrigation practices, or combinations of these factors” (Britannica). There are crisis occurring around the world which have been linked to the impact of desertification. The issue of desertification can be reversed on certain soils by adopting the systems put in place by nature.

Photo: Satellite image showing vegetation on the surface of the earth (Allan Savory)

Evidencing Desertification

An excerpt from (Katyal et al) “Territories susceptible to desertification are seasonally dry areas in which the ratio of annual precipitation to potential evapotranspiration (P/ETP) falls within the range of 0.05 to 0.65 (UNEP, 1992). Polar and sub-polar regions are kept outside the scope of this definition. Accordingly, drylands occupy 39.7% (~ 5.2 billion hectares) of the global land area (~ 13 billion hectares). Within the drylands, 12.1%, 17.1% and 9.9% of the world area are, respectively in the arid, semiarid and dry sub-humid climates.

Drylands are spread over the northern half of Africa, southwest Africa, the Middle East, northwest India extending towards Pakistan, Mexico, North America, the western coast and southern tip of South America, and a large part of Australia (Grainger, 1990). They also occur in central Asia and North of China. The majority of the drylands occur in Africa, Asia and Australia. These continents, contain 37%, 33%, and 14% of the global dryland area, respectively (Dregne, 1983)”.

Reversing Desertification

Environmentalists

Natural cycle of cattle and grazing has been distorted through commercialization. In a natural state, grazing animals may be on land for several years and when there is death, the corpse of the animal goes back into the soil as dense nutrients. With the influence of man, however, animals reach marketable age and are taken from the forest depriving the soil of valuable nutrients. “Environmentalists insist that to restore degraded landscapes, we must reduce the presence of cattle, eat less meat, and allow ecosystems to repair themselves” (McWilliams). They canvas an end to excessive rearing of livestock.

Allan Savory Theory

This approach involved a systematic breeding of cattle in herds and the periodic ‘dense’ grazing of land. Although a more rigorous approach, the Allan Savory approach adopts the basis already opined by environmentalists over the years.

An explanation of his hypothesis is rather logical and worthy of note. While countering the argument that livestock grazing was primarily the cause of desertification, he further discussed that “what we had failed to understand was that, the soil and vegetation developed with large numbers of grazing animals.” They also had predators, and so defended themselves by making herds, which are forced to move. This movement prevented over-grazing, while periodic trampling produced good soil. It wasn’t the livestock, but the way the livestock were kept by farmers” (Savory at TED2013).

A few of the relevant points include:

  1. Desertification occurs in regions with months of humidity followed dryness seasons
  2. Leaving the soil bare through removal of grass lands impacts on the soil
  3. The root causes of desertification have not been fully understood by experts.

Solution processes:

  1. Mimic nature by having livestock in a herd and moving them periodically

The theory by Allan Savory has received much criticism. One of the reasons behind it is an issue of generalization and impracticability. Allan Savory process involve some level of returning the symbiosis between cattle/forest relationships.

A video by Allan Savory “How to fight desertification and reverse climate change”…

References:-

1. Ben Lillie February, and Ben Lillie. “Fighting the Growing Deserts, with Livestock: Allan Savory at TED2013.” TED Blog, blog.ted.com/fighting-the-growing-deserts-with-livestock-allan-savory-at-ted2013/.

2. Darkoh, M. B. K. “The Nature, Causes and Consequences of Desertification in the Drylands of Africa.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 4 Dec. 1998, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/(SICI)1099-145X(199801/02)9:1%3C1::AID-LDR263%3E3.0.CO;2-8.

3. “Desertification.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/science/desertification.

4. Katyal, Jagdish C.; Vlek, Paul L. G. “Desertification: Concept, causes and amelioration.” ZEF Discussion Papers on Development Policy, No. 33

5. Mainguet, M., and G. G. Da Silva. “Desertification and Drylands Development: What Can Be Done?” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 5 Feb. 1999, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/(SICI)1099-145X(199809/10)9:5%3C375::AID-LDR304%3E3.0.CO;2-2.

6. McWilliams, James. “Why Allan Savory’s TED Talk About Cattle and Global Warming Is Wrong.” Slate Magazine, Slate, 22 Apr. 2013, slate.com/human-interest/2013/04/allan-savorys-ted-talk-is-wrong-and-the-benefits-of-holistic-grazing-have-been-debunked.html.

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