Holistic Management – A Book Review

In Book Reviews, Management by James7 Comments

It’s been nearly a month since my last book review, and for good reason. This book took time to read. But it was well worth it. Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making by Allan Savory is perhaps the most important book written in terms of saving the planet from desertification and environmental damage in addition to feeding the world. A bold statement I know, but the decades of research and trials show it to be absolutely true, and strong voices like Joel Salatin and others who understand what it takes to heal the land have given credit to Savory’s work as the origins of this knowledge. Allan Savory like so many other pioneers in other fields came to his breakthrough moment only after decades of trial and error. He grew up and has lived most of his life in Zimbabwe, Africa. He started his career working as a game officer where he learned many tough lessons in understanding the relationship between animals and the environment. He credits, as many do, Andre Voisin’s classic book “Grass Productivity” first published in 1957 as being the first book that lays out the foundation of the importance of rotational grazing and animal relationships to grass and building and maintaining a healthy soil and landscape. Voisin’s vision however was limited to his environment which was located in the one-third of the world that provided a humid and less brittle climate – one that desertification has a hard time taking hold in. Alan took Voisin’s work to the next level and addressed the rest of the world, the other two-thirds of the world’s land that exists in a less humid environment, otherwise known as a  brittle environment – an environment that easily succumbs to desertification if not properly managed – by nature, man, or a combination of both. What Savory discovered was that historically in brittle environments it was the large herds of roaming animals and the predators following them  that kept the tall perennial grasses growing in such abundance. The herds were frequently on the move due to the constant threat from predator packs. As a result the herding animals would feed in an area for a short time, sometimes hours or a day, not taking all of the plants down to the ground and overgrazing, but taking half or less, all the while depositing large quantities of manure and impacting the soil with their hooves to disturb the soil just enough to help new seeds establish. They were also tightly bunched together for added protection against the threatening predation, which is called herd effect, and was a key factor in ensuring there was not bare soil gaps between plants after the herds moved on due to all the soil surface receiving some form of disturbance from the tightly packed mob.  The area they visited would not be returned to for months or years giving it time to recover and come back even stronger than before. Later it was man who disturbed this cycle with hunting pressure, fires, cultivation, over grazing of livestock, and worst of all forced land rest which has led to where we are today. Thankfully due to Allan’s diligence in solving the desertification puzzle thousands upon thousands of acres of land have been healed and desertification reversed. And a byproduct of healing the land is providing people with jobs and the healthiest possible meat they can consume – produced in the most economical, environmentally friendly, and humane way possible. Talk about a win win. One final thing I’ll say in this introduction comes directly from the book: Some of the greatest environmental tragedies in human history have ensued from the false assumption that all environments respond the same way to rest. This is perhaps the biggest breakthrough Allan Savory made through his research, and even today it’s on going battle with many who still believe that rest is the cure-all despite the results observed over multiple decades.

What’s in the Book?

This book contains a lot, and is broken into 11 essential parts.Part 1: Introduction. Part II: Four Key Insights. Part III: The Power Lies in the Holistic Goal. Part IV: The Ecosystem That Sustains Us All. Part V: The Tools We Use to Manage Our Ecosystem. Part VI: Testing Your Decisions. Part VII: Completing the Feedback Loop. Part VIII: Some Practical Guidelines for Management. Part IX: Planning Procedures Unique to Holistic Management. Part X: New Perspectives. Part XI: Conclusions.

What is Holistic Management?

Anytime we embark on understanding something new we should first start with definitions. To fully understand what Holistic Management is one would need to read the book, but I’ll try my best here to give the reader a general understanding of the concept. Holistic Management is as the title suggests a framework for decision making. It is in fact a methodology for decision making. Holistic Management is not only for people who are involved with farming or the land, but it can and has been used in large and small companies, and individuals can use it for personal decisions they make in everyday life. The philosophy that supports Holistic Management comes from Jan Christian Smuts, which you could say in a very basic way supports the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m sure it wouldn’t take much time to think of numerous examples of people making decisions in an isolationist reductionist mindset, but considering this blog is dedicated to farming lets just look at the method of healing land by rest. As I mentioned earlier two-thirds of the planet is arid and fits into the brittle category while the other one-third is humid and falls into a nonbrittle category. In humid nonbrittle areas rest has been proven to be the best thing to heal over grazed or damaged lands. The problem lies in the thinking that this applies also to the other two-thirds of the world’s brittle environments. For decades, and even today after Savory’s work governments have chosen to apply rest to heal over grazed lands, and lands that are starting to experience or experiencing desertification. In coming to their decision they did not considering the whole. In humid environments those areas are damaged by human and animal impact so they automatically conclude that the same problem and solution will apply to all lands. You may be saying to yourself that this is a rather common sense thing not to do. And a big part of me thinks this is happening and continuing to happen because of the inefficiency of government bureaucracies rather than a lack of understanding. And I think, and Savory hints that to a large part this is what’s going on in these cases. Savory also concludes it is not any government or bureaucracy that is going to lead the movement to restoring land through holistic management, like all positive and progressive movements throughout history it will come from the people, starting from the grassroots. When we consider implementing holistic management you we must first make a holistic goal. The holistic goal must address four key insights and it must be a vision for the future and not include how you’re going to get there, but simply be written in clear concrete terms. Once you have your holistic goal on paper, which is created by everyone involved (very important) then from that point on it’s your guide to how you make the decisions in your business or farm or life.

What are the 4 Key Insights?

1. The Whole is Greater than the sum of its parts.

This is the first key insight you must consider when forming your holistic goal. I touched on this in the above paragraph. In the chapter that solely addresses this insight Savory mentions an example in his early days of working as a game department biologist in Zambia. He recalls the valley he worked in was teeming with wildlife at the time, the river banks were stable and well vegetated, and natives lived in various clusters through out the land. But the governments of Zambia and bordering Zimbabwe wanted to make the area into national parks. No more hunting, drum beating, gardening, and general disturbance, so the government removed the people from the land. Savory says “We replaced drum beating, gun firing, gardening, and farming people with ecologists, naturalists, and tourists, under strict control to ensure they did not disturb the animals or vegetation.” What was the result of removing this very important piece of the whole? “Within a few decades miles of riverbank in both valleys were devoid of reeds, fig thickets, and most other vegetation.” The change in human behavior changed the behavior of the animals and as a result the environment deteriorated immensely and continues to do so today.

2. Viewing Environments a Whole New Way. 

This insight also touches on something I’ve already mentioned. The fact that all environments do not respond in the same manner to the same influences. In a land management sense this big insight shows us that resting land in a brittle environment leads to desertification, while in humid environments leads to restoration of plant life. If you’re a manager in a company you might view this as people you’re managing in different departments. One department may respond differently to ideas or incentives than another department.

3. The Predator-Prey Connection.

I also mentioned this insight earlier. It’s the discovery that in brittle environments, high numbers of large herding animals, concentrated and moving as they naturally do in the presence of pack-hunting predators are vital to maintaining the health of the lands we thought they destroyed.

4. Timing is Everything.

This is the final and most important insight which shows that it’s the time that matters not the number of animals on a particular piece of land. Actually the more the better. If large herds are in an area for a short time they will only cause enough impact with their hooves to benefit the soil, not compact it, and in addition they will only take enough of the plants to stimulate new growth, not overgraze it and harm it. In addition they are stomping down other plants adding organic material to the soil surface which helps stabilize the water cycle and of course adding manure to the soil building the fertility.

What Does a Holistic Goal Look Like?

The first part of forming any holistic goal is determining what it is you really want. However a holistic goal doesn’t just concern want you want in the moment. A holistic goal caters to immediate and long-term needs, human values, economies, and the environment.

I won’t go into all of the nuts and bolts here on how to form your holistic goal, but once you get through all of the brainstorming and lists and boil it down it will usually come out to about one page. It will include a Quality of Life statement, Forms of Production section, and Future Resource Base section. Savory provides a few samples in the book, I’ll share one that is most applicable to the readership of this blog.

This is an example from the book, it’s a holistic goal created by a middle-aged couple to manage their lives

Quality of Life

To be engaged in meaningful work for the rest of our lives and to be excited and enthusiastic about what we have to do and get to do each day. To be secure financially, physically, and emotionally into old age; to be known for our honor, integrity, chivalry, and spirit. To maintain robust health and physical stamina; to enjoy an abundance of mutually satisfying relationships. To explore and experience wild places and to ensure those places will still be there when our grandchildren’s grandchildren seek to find them. To live simply and consume sparingly.

What We Have to Produce (Forms of Production)

– Profit from meaningful work.

– Work or leisure in wild places.

– Time for learning, meaningful discussion, companionship, and exercise.

– A warm and hospitable home environment – wherever home happens to be at any time – in which friends, family, and colleagues always feel welcome.

Future Resource Base

– People. We are known to be compassionate and thoughtful, well informed, good listeners, fun to be with, adventurous, and supportive.

– Land. The land surrounding and supporting our town will be stable and productive. Wildlife will be plentiful – we’ll be able to see animals, or signs of them, anytime we venture out. The river will run clear and be full of life, and eagles nest in the trees alongside it once again.

Below is a guide that includes everything one must consider in making decisions under the holistic management model. It’s a lot simpler than it looks once you understand how to use it, but I thought it would be worth including to give the reader an idea.

Color Model

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer

Writing this book review was a bit difficult considering the scope of this book. It’s loaded with numerous stories from Savory’s time working in the field. Those stories alone are worth the read. It’s also filled with charts and graphs on how to implement your holistic goal. However, I wanted to focus more on the methodology. Allan Savory’s discoveries over the years on how to heal the land, and what was causing desertification are priceless. But equally important is designing a new framework for individuals to implement changes that result from his decades of work. That’s really what this book is all about as is suggested in the title. As I mentioned before, and Alan mentioned in the book, when people are presented with this information they respond by saying it’s just common sense. Yet when we look at what people actually do and how they do it it’s obvious they have not developed a methodology for taking that common sense information and bringing it into practice. This book shows you how to do that. It is a definite must read for anyone who is interested in working with the land, and I think a quite valuable read for anyone who owns a business or works in a managerial position. We are all connected and companies who operate under the principles of holistic management are not only providing a quality work environment for their employees which results in more productivity and quality products and service, but they are showing that they view themselves as part of the community and care about the effects of their actions, and byproducts of their labor. It ends up being a win win for everyone, because at the end of the day we’re all apart of the same whole which is the planet we live on. If we take care of it and manage it in a healthful way everyone prospers economically, physically, and emotionally.

Buy the book via Amazon by clicking HERE (It’s an affiliate link so I get a little kickback if you buy. Thanks!)

 

For more information about Allan Savory and Holistic management please visit Holistic Management International. They provide an abundance of free resources including numerous downloads. And check out The Savory Institute

Finally here is the man himself Allan Savory giving one of the most important talks the world has seen or heard.

 

A fantastic 3 minute animation that highlights the key points in Holistic Planned Grazing

 

A great 6 minute video that highlights Holistic Management at Work

Comments

  1. Addye

    Really got inspired after reading this review to go pull the climber stakes out of my garden pots & store them properly for the winter & lay out plans for my spring composting soil prep. days ahead.
    I say this because the Holistic info. talked about in this review screams to me that there is no room for lazy in something you are passionate about & value as important. I know lazy was not mentioned, but reading this review sparked that thought in me.
    All of your book reviews have pointed out directions that make sound & inspiring survival sense for a much needed better world. I am grateful for the information you take the time & effort to share with us all. Important stuff. Thank you!

    1. Author
      James

      Thanks for the nice comment. I’m happy to hear the review was inspirational. I think people get lazy or don’t follow through with things many times because they don’t have a methodology that will get them to where they want to go and they get discouraged. All success comes from proper planning. Then the actual doing becomes the fun part, because if you’ve planned well then whatever difficulties you encounter are usually easily solved. The importance of planning and preparation has been a strong theme in all of the books I’ve reviewed this year, and I’m sure it will continue. Spend the winter reading about gardening, make your plan for the spring, and then you’ll be harvesting a delicious bounty next time around for sure. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Management-intensive Grazing – A Book Review | I Wanna Farm

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