Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Brown Revolution Brings New Hope

Brown Revolution Brings New Hope

By Busani Bafana

VICTORIA FALLS, Jan 10, 2012 (IPS) – Picking spots for cattle to graze could 
reverse desertification and even do its bit to retard climate change, new 
experiments in Zimbabwe have shown. It’s what is coming to be called the 
Brown Revolution.

Planned grazing of livestock is helping restore formally degraded lands 
close to Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls world heritage site. It is a miracle that 
ecologist Allan Savory of the Savory Institute calls the brown revolution – 
and at the least it could reverse the declining fortunes of agriculture in 

The U.S.-based Savory Institute and its partner organisation, the Africa 
Centre for Holistic Management (ACHM), have regenerated land, wildlife and 
water on land that was turning into a desert after livestock numbers 
increased by 400 percent on their 2,900-hectare ranch in the Dimbangombe 
area, 36 km from the town of Victoria Falls. The land healing miracle is 
thanks to a practice known as holistic management.

Holistic management, a result of more than 50 years of research and 
development spanning four continents, has increased land productivity and 
water availability and improved livelihoods of communities in Zimbabwe 
through planned livestock grazing.

“Livestock are the one of the best tools available to science to address 
desertification on a large scale,” Savory told IPS. “If you do not address 
desertification, you cannot address climate change.”

With a wide understanding of the holistic approach and a quick response from 
government, Zimbabwe can devise a land and agriculture policy settling 
millions of people on restored land and ensuring the country’s return to its 
former agricultural fortunes.

“Holistic management is more than just the holistic planned grazing – it 
involves a framework for such things as complex policy formation,” Savory 

“Agriculture is causing climate change as much as or possibly more than 
coal, oil and gas, and unless we address agriculture we cannot address 
climate change. We can say without any fear of informed contradiction that 
without using the holistic framework we cannot address some of the most 
significant parts of the climate change problem,” he added.

Savory admitted that he never liked cattle. He said he used to be a 
“fanatical environmentalist” demanding that farmers get rid of cattle, based 
on his university training and prevailing beliefs. But decades later, he 
recognises that livestock are the only tool that, if managed properly, can 
change the direction of desertification, biodiversity loss and climate 
change globally.

“By using livestock to mimic the vast herds that used to roam our planet, 
before humans began replacing them and their role with fire, we are healing 
the soils and allowing them once more to capture and store vast amounts of 
both water and carbon – leading to reduced droughts and floods and beginning 
to seriously address climate change,” said Savory, a former wildlife 
biologist and founder of the ACHM.

Savory blames desertification not on the proverbial scapegoat – overstocking 
of cattle, sheep and goats – but on the way they are managed. Under holistic 
planned grazing, livestock are grazed in an area for a maximum of three days 
and not returned to the same piece of land for at least nine months.

In the process, they use their hooves to break up the hard ground and 
increase soil cover with dung and trampled litter, allowing for better 
rainfall absorption and carbon retention in the soil. The temporary 
compaction also facilitates seed to soil contact for better seed 

With adequate animal numbers, holistic planned grazing also eliminates the 
need for grassland burning, because annually dying grass parts do not turn 
grey and stale, necessitating the use of fire to ensure new growth. Fires 
throughout Africa’s grasslands are contributing more to climate change than 
the use of fossil fuels in some countries.

“The miracle of this approach is that for the first time in history we are 
dealing with both the cause of the available rainfall becoming less 
effective (desertification) and with our inability to deal with social, 
environmental and economic complexity in normal decision-making,” Savory 

While it is fashionable to plant trees to address desertification and 
climate change, Savory warns that trees cannot store excess carbon from soil 
destruction, fires and fossil fuels – but the world’s largely ignored vast 
grassland soils can do so, safely. This is because every season that grass 
plants are grazed, they leave dead roots in the soil, adding to soil organic 

Savory points to the miracle of holistic management in Zimbabwe on the land 
within the pilot site at the ACHM.

“Because we have greatly increased livestock properly managed to mimic 
nature, we now have waist-high grasses where we used to stand on bare 
ground. We have brought the river back to life, and it is now home to water 
lilies, fish and more.”

As a result of the practice there has been an improved water flow, spanning 
a wider distance than before, he said. “There is a permanent, year-round 
higher amount of water than we have known to exist in the past.”

The miracle, Savory says, was achieved at negligible cost – “where billions 
of dollars spent on technological interventions and reducing livestock have 
failed repeatedly and always will.”

Today holistic management is practiced by tens of thousands of people in 
many countries and contexts. Up to 12 million hectares of land are under the 
practice globally.

Savory said some people have started taking notice finally, simply because 
obvious success in the end prevails over criticism of the idea. He said 
naysayers, some of whom published countless papers and books ‘proving’ that 
the approach does not work, were now returning to holistic management.

This acceptance by academics has drawn international recognition for ACHM.

The Savory Institute has teamed with the Capital Institute, creating a 
division called Grasslands, which invests in deteriorating land within the 
U.S. to begin restoring large areas using properly managed livestock for a 
high return to investors.

The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) within the United States 
Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided 4.8 million 
dollars for ACHM and the Savory Institute to scale up education and training 
programmes in the southern Africa region.

The work of ACHM and SI has interested NGOs and pastoralists throughout 
Africa. There are ongoing successful operations in Namibia, Botswana and 

The Savory Institute is collaborating with Kenyans to establish a learning 
site similar to ACHM to serve the Horn of Africa.

Researcher and livestock specialist Prof. Ntombizakhe Mpofu told IPS that 
the holistic management approach is enabling farmers to manage their 
livestock to increase productivity while healing the land. And she explained 
that through the teaching at ACHM, villagers are now increasing crop yields 
by as much as five times using livestock properly managed for field 
preparation in place of ploughing and fertilising.

Dr. Mike Peel, a rangeland ecologist with the Agricultural Research Council 
in South Africa, is monitoring and gathering data on land under holistic 
management over a five- year period to convince academics that its results 
are verifiable and not anecdotal.

OFDA has agreed to fund the research because of the need for additional data 
to convince governments of the need for change. The Zimbabwe government has 
formed a permanent committee of the heads of appropriate government 
departments to work with ACHM to promote holistic management in the country.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 2008 publication “Africa: 
Atlas of Our Changing Environment” cited the erosion of agricultural land 
and deforestation among the most serious of Zimbabwe’s environmental 
problems. Savory points out that short-term answers lead only to decreasing 
livestock, cultural genocide for pastoral people and tree planting, while 
desertification increases.

Developed as a result of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the United 
Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is a unique instrument 
that has brought global attention to land degradation. The Convention is now 
working closely with the Savory Institute to see if new thinking on land 
restoration can be introduced at the Rio + 20 conference to be held in June 
in Brazil.

“Our most significant non-renewable geo-resource is fertile land and soil,” 
UNCCD executive secretary Luc Gnacadja told the UNCCD COP 10 in Changwon, 
South Korea in October 2011.


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