Sarah Savory is the daughter of Zimbabwean ecologist and advocate of holistic management, Allan Savory. She lives and works in Zimbabwe and is a passionate advocate of regenerative agriculture, sustainable agriculture and nature management, holistic management, wildlife conservation and all things related. She has been sharing thoughts with on quite a few important matters. This month, she joins forces with her father, Alan Savory, to discuss the important matters of climate change and regenerative agriculture.

**This article is based on a speech recently delivered by Alan Savory in the United States.

If you feel at all worried about climate change, or our future on this planet, you really should read this from beginning to end. This applies to every human on the planet and it offers great hope in very dark times.

“I feel this is extremely important, to ensure any hope for my grandchildren and those of every other human. This will offer great hope in a time of deep concern, on many fronts, in a world that is confused and leaderless. We are facing grave dangers, in global desertification and climate change, along with many of the symptoms of desertification, such as, ever-increasing droughts, floods, mega-fires, poverty, poaching, social breakdown, mass emigration to cities and across borders, violence and war.”

What is the cause?

According to our institutions, media and society, generally, the biggest things to blame for climate change are: livestock, coal and oil. These simply cannot be to blame. These are resources and no resource can ever cause a problem. Only our management of resources can be the cause of any problems.

It is how we manage livestock that is causing the desertification of the world’s arid areas, which make up over two-thirds of our planet’s land mass. It is management that calls fossil resources “fossil fuels”, to be burnt at a damaging rate. It is, without any shadow of doubt, management that is causing global desertification and climate change and all its many symptoms.

Who is acknowledging this reality?

Forty years ago we discovered that the management causing our problems is reductionist, and always has been. And we discovered how management could be holistic, in all walks of life, including policy development, which would begin to address the cause of all the symptoms we keep tackling, at enormous cost to us in money and in time.

We have known how to reverse man-made desertification and begin addressing climate instability for decades. And we have long demonstrated that doing so immediately and automatically begins to deal with the many symptoms.

Recognising the cause, and the ability to address it, for the first time in history, offers team humanity great hope for the future.

Role of institutions

We never deal with major issues as individuals, but always through our organisations, or institutions.

We form organisations because it is the most efficient way to do many things. However, once formed, organisations take on a life of their own. They do not behave as an individual human would behave. Even when an organisation murders thousands of people, it is not tried for murder, as you or I would be. Nor is any executive punished severely, no matter how much damage any organisation has done to humanity, our economy or our environment.

Organisations reflect the prevailing views of society. They lead the way with anything society believes in. Organisations are self-organising and do not end when key people die, but simply re-organise. They are defined as Complex Soft Systems.

Everything in nature is defined as a Complex Natural System. Together, nature and organisations, are everything that humans manage, from our families, to governance, with minor exceptions.

Everything else in life is what we make, rather than manage. And all that we make, from a toothbrush, to space exploration vehicles, or electricity, from solar, wind or any other source, is defined as a Complicated Hard System. By definition, nothing we make, no matter how complicated it is, is complex, because these things are not self-organising. They do not work if a part is missing, if fuel runs out, a battery goes flat, or if something breaks. Nothing we make is self-organising. Problems experienced with things we make are called ‘kind’ problems – which means that they are relatively easy to fix.

Things we manage, on the other hand, experience what are called “wicked” problems, meaning they are almost impossible to fix. It took us over 10 000 years to learn how to reverse man-made desertification, and half a century later, that is still disputed by some academics and our institutions remain inert.

And currently, climate change is a ‘wicked’ problem (as was desertification) incapable of solution by the institutions, upon which we rely.

There are three organisational “wicked” problems, which are resulting in the institutional log jam, that is endangering humanity:

  • While organisations lead with any development aligned to society’s beliefs, they also lead any ridicule and opposition to new insights that are counter-intuitive, or paradigm-shifting (nothing has changed since Galileo!).No amount of facts, evidence, data, or number of lives lost, make any difference to organisations. They only accept the new insights when a significant shift in the public mind occurs. For this to happen, it can take a century or more, as we saw with the 200 years it took the British Navy to accept lime juice could end scurvy, despite its importance to Britain and over a million sailors dying.
  • No matter how good, or intelligent, the people in any organisation are, the outcome is often lacking common sense and humanity. Once aware of this problem, it is incredible how widespread it is. For example, ask any person if it makes sense for America to produce oil, to produce maize, to produce fuel. People laugh and say this is clearly stupid – but our institutions do it!
  • Organisations seldom admit error. Rather, they circle the wagons and defend the organisation, even when it goes entirely against their very mission. Think of the Catholic church and how they protected the paedophile priests, and not the children.

Why there is no leadership

Organisations historically made major blunders, that were recognised as such. Organisational blundering on a vast scale was to end with the “Age of Reason” in Voltaire’s time. Blundering on a major scale was clearly due to amateur leadership, because people could inherit, or buy, their positions in organisations. From that time on, there would be no more serious blundering, because organisations would be led by highly trained professionals, as they generally are today.

John Ralston Saul studied this situation and wrote his best-selling “Voltaire’s Bastards” in which he reports, with abundant evidence, that far from decreasing, global blundering increased greatly under trained professional, expert leadership. This we see today, culminating in agriculture being the most destructive, extractive industry ever in history, and we see it with global desertification and climate change, which threatens civilization as we know it, while our organisations flounder and block any progress.

To quote Saul: “The reality is, that the division of knowledge into feudal fiefdoms of expertise has made general understanding and coordinated action, not simply impossible, but despised and distrusted.”

People are increasingly appealing to politicians and governments to take a lead in addressing climate change, but I hope you see that research and history inform us why there is no leadership in this hour of need, nor can any institution lead. The world is floundering leaderless – there is no one at the helm! There is no possibility of leadership from politicians, universities, environmental organisations or the United Nations.

What do we need to know?

We need to know what management options are available to humanity, and what each of us can do, personally, today.

Libraries of the world, and universities, are full of management books, giving the impression of a great many management options. However, if we “peel the onion” and keep digging deeper into every management practice, we find that they are all built on the same, fundamental foundation. This foundational framework is reductionist, and, being common to all tool-using animals, has been used by all humans for over a million years. It is a universal framework only discovered in the 1980s and it looks like this:

Intending to improve our lives, we take actions to meet our needs, desires or to address problems we face. We can only act by using some tool – and the only three tools humans have are:

  • Technology
  • Fire
  • Resting the environment (conservation)

The only other possibility known, is to use technology, to plant trees, to address climate change. We note here, that this is always reductionist, because we have always failed to see that everything we manage has inevitable social, environmental, political and economic consequences. In other words, it is all complex.

We have always reduced this unavoidable web of complexity, to just meeting our needs, desires, or solving problems, as the reason, or context, for our management actions. That reduction of the web of social/cultural, economic, political and environmental complexity, is one reason for our centuries of failure in preventing the demise of civilisations.

Another is the fact that there is no tool here that can address global desertification and thus, ultimately, climate instability and change.

Note: Policy development is an aspect of management and even with the most sophisticated interdisciplinary teams, where every scientist is aware there will be social, environmental and economic consequences, the web of complexity is consistently reduced to the problem addressed, as the context for policy actions. The result, as we see, for example, with policies of the US on drugs, noxious plants, terror, or immigration, is that all problems increase with many other unintended consequences.

What is holistic management

  • You work in WHOLE situations, by starting with the whole under management, the people, environment and money.
  • You avoid reducing complexity, by having people develop one over-arching holistic context, upon which ALL agree, and that reflects how we want our lives to be – which is tied to our life supporting environment.

We then go about determining actions to meet our needs, desires or solve problems, using all current science, scientific principles, or other sources of knowledge, but now with the holistic context as the reason for our actions.

We then use seven filtering questions, if in any doubt, to ensure actions (or policies) are in line with the holistic context, while meeting needs, desires or solving problems.

We add the missing tool without which it is not possible to stop man-made desertification, or address climate instability – this tool is livestock, with the Holistic Planned Grazing Process (or a better process when developed).

Where do we start?

Agricultural policy by all governments. Because we cannot have an economy, church, university, army, orchestra or government without agriculture, so that is the place to start. Remember, agriculture is not crop production, as many think it is. It is the production of food and fibre from the world’s land and waters. Our whole planet is now engaged in agriculture – fisheries, forestry, crops, livestock, wildlife and more. And most vital of all, no economy (capitalist or other) can sustain any community, or nation, ultimately, other than through the photosynthetic process – green plants growing on regenerating soil.

Any sane human knows agriculture should be based on biological sciences – but as we see that, because of ‘wicked’ problems, institutions have based agriculture on chemistry and the marketing of technology.

The unintended consequences

One statistic says it all – over 75 billion tons of dead, eroding soil every year is our greatest cropland agricultural product. That is twenty times the amount of dead, eroding soil as food needed for every human alive.

Ocean life is being obliterated, continental shelves, that are the most productive regions of our oceans, are being covered with silt and dying, and on the land, deserts are expanding, billions of hectares of grasslands burn every year, and millions of hectares of forests burn periodically – all having a profound effect on weather. Agriculture, dominated by our institutions, is unarguably the most extractive, destructive industry ever in history and a major contributor to desertification and climate instability, as well as rising health problems.

Apart from government agricultural policies, we need to address major policies of environmental organisations and development agencies, which are leading to both desertification and climate change.

Development projects

If we look at the latest Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, we find that millions of institutional scientists developed them, unknowingly using the universal reductionist management framework. These SDGs can only lead to disappointment and further degradation because almost all attempt to solve the symptoms of desertification, while not accepting any tool that can address the cause.

Remember that no one is to blame, because this is simply a ‘wicked’ problem of organisations. And we should not criticise any organisation, or we risk it circling the wagons, like the Catholic Church, and going against their very mission. Difficult though it is, we have to distinguish between the behaviour of the organisation and that of the many good, well-meaning people, working in the organisation.

The World Bank has apparently just announced it plans to spend $200 billion on climate change, but not a single dollar will be spent addressing the cause. Once again, failure can be guaranteed, through no fault of any individual in the bank.

What type of agriculture is needed?

Organic? Sustainable? Grass fed cattle? Permaculture? Biodynamic? Mainstream factory animal production? Mono-crops based on chemistry? Frankly, if we, as public, get into debating these different practices, it becomes a free for all and will take over 100 years to see change (if we heed the research and history).

If we support various cropping practices, be they organic, permaculture or any other practice we believe is a good practice, based on biological sciences, you can be sure others will argue for their favoured practice. Even people promoting what they believe are organic, sustainable, permaculture or whatever good practice, end up competing for funds and validity of their “solution.”

We need a new, regenerative agriculture

Agriculture will be regenerative when the management is holistic – using a holistic context – to guide government and United Nations policies, as well as those of large environmental and other non-government organisations and development projects and management on farms, ranches, pastoral communities, forestry, wildlife and fisheries.

In every case, as soon as people stop reducing the web of complexity, and management is guided by their own holistic context, the best or most appropriate agricultural “practices” will automatically be adopted.

Some practices will be in context and therefore used in certain situations, while others would be out of context, and therefore rejected. For example, take a simple practice, almost universally advocated in permaculture – water harvesting, using earth swales. In situations where humidity was well distributed and desertification not occurring, such practices would often be found to be in context and therefore would be used.

However, where desertification is occurring, such practices would be found to be out of context and therefore not used. So too with livestock: rotational grazing might occasionally be in context where desertification was not occurring, but would be out of context over most of the world where desertification has to be reversed.

Regenerative agriculture is not any specific agricultural practice, but is agriculture managed holistically, embracing the most up to date science and practices, guided by people in their own holistic context and self-interest.

In every region and country, practices would be locally determined and in line with the people’s holistic context. Therefore, for them, socially sound, environmentally and economically sound and in their own holistic context and enlightened self-interest.

What can you do?

Talk, read, learn and most of all, discuss the need for regenerative agriculture, using a holistic context, with friends, family and community. Use social networking for good, spreading the idea, until enough of the public are insisting and begin to help our institutions to change.

The same applies, especially to people working in any of our institutions, because you are also private, caring citizens with a family and, although you are powerless to prevent institutional stupidity, you can, in your private citizen role, enable institutions to change.

Do not argue, or claim any agricultural practice is the right one to “solve the problem” no matter how steeped you are in a specific practice today. By promoting a specific practice, you risk other people countering with their favourite practice, which will cause only slow, incremental change to take place.

I urge you to discuss and push just two things that I believe no scientist, no academic and no institution can argue against: Management needs to be holistic and agriculture regenerative. – Alan Savory and Sarah Savory.