DesertificationGlobal Warming/Climate ChangeLandLivestockPresentations/DemonstrationsSoil ConservationSoil Erosion & ContaminationSoil Rehabilitation

Allan Savory: How to Green the World’s Deserts and Reverse Climate Change (TED video)

I have been waiting so long for Allan to get on Ted Talks! Now, here it is. Prepared to have your minds blown, ok?

I am sure you’re going to want to know more about HM in Australia and where to learn? The best training for HM comes out of InsideOutside Management. As it happens, they have a training beginning in April 2013. Although located in NSW they are able to travel across Australia to organise training, so get in touch! You will want to after seeing this.

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And terrifyingly, it’s happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes — and his work so far shows — that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.

Further Reading/Watching:


  1. We are working hard to get a HM course with Brian Wehlburg up and running in SA. To register your interest please contact Dan French (dan at

  2. That satellite picture showing the desertification of Australia is a blinding indicator of how much we need repair techniques like HM and NSF. Great to see training opportunities available.

  3. Seems partly interesting and promising. But I wonder if this is truly good for the climate. Methane is ~100 times potent as a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. (While the molecule is still in the atmosphere and hasn’t broken down to carbon dioxide.) Cattle produces methane. And their dung and urine produce nitrous oxide (N2O) or laughing gas when fallen on to the soil. N2O is around 300 times as potential greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide is.

    Even if this method truly does store carbon in the soil -which it propably does-, it is possible that the warming induced by the methane and nitrous oxide produced by cattle could thwarf the cooling effect caused by carbon dioxide sequesteration.

    So I’d like to see in detail calculations about the net climatic effects caused by this kind of practice. It would be important that the calculations were also made using the short-term gh potentials, and not only the very long ones. (The problem is that if we use only the long term potentials (such as calculated over a period of 100 years)we might miss signigicant temporary warming effects, and they might become serious problem if we were to increase this kind of practices rapidly all over the world.)

    Also it would be important to make this kinds of calculations ecosystem by ecosystem, since the amount on N2O produced varies depending on soil humidity. Also, hydroxyl radicals (which break down methane) are more precent in the tropics than in the closer to the poles, so the lifetime of the methane produced by cattle is different in different regions of the world.

    Regards, Aapo

    1. thats not the only way.
      insanely huge herds of animals are nor natural nor the best solution available.
      With Design, even the most arid climates can produce food in aboundance, by containing all the water, and developing forestry systems.
      It’s what geoff did, and what he is trying to let us understand.

  4. Incredible video. Along these lines I wonder about the potential for careful application of humanure and human urine to also play a part in reversing desertification and climate change.

  5. Ok, interesting idea, but there are problems:

    1. production of methan and N2O as mentioned above
    2. what about erosion? when there is no grass or other ground cover, the damage is minimal, but when there is one and cattle is grazing on it, then the sun begins to dry the soil and wind takes it away, …

  6. The concerns expressed above are understandable, as they reflect common misconceptions about livestock. Regarding erosion – poorly managed stock (eg set stocking) are a true disaster for groundcover and hence for soil degradation and erosion, but well managed livestock have been amply demonstrated to improve groundcover and soil health, the key to reversing erosion and building soil. As for concerns about methane an nitrous oxide emissions, the figures on the potential for carbon sequestration by regeneration of degraded soils makes the burps and wees of livestock insignificant in comparison.
    Yes, animals can create oasification!

  7. Whether an activity contributes postively to maintaining a recognizable climate regime (whether it is ‘good for the climate’ from our human perspective) is a question with dimensions that are drastically larger and wider than the mere question of methane amounts.

    How land is percieved, used and managed and whether its functioning is healthy and productive of a huge variety of natural benefits (‘ecosystem services’)for large swaths of biodiversity including humans are just a few domains and dynamics with huge potential to be greatly improved from current degrading trends by use of planned grazing.

    Clean air, water, support of greater amounts and diversity of life, support of human nutrition, economy, culture and society are just a few of these benefits (over 75% of earth’s population depends in some way on livestock for their livelihoods).

    Though the biological methane cycle is still not completely understood, we do know that wetlands are by far the largest methane emitters (livestock are comparatively of little consequence – and are also not so much ‘adding’ methane as cycling organic material that will cycle eventually by other means if not by livestock). The global trend in wetlands has of course been a huge reduction in the past several hundred years. In the US we have lost well over half of our wetland areas since 1600. For all we know there could be a resulting atmospheric methane ‘deficit’!?

    But wetland methane aside, we still know that historically there would have been huge amounts of wild herbivore biomass across the grasslands of the planet, cycling carbon and methane in likely even larger amounts than are proposed here by Savory’s approach. These dynamics built the worlds best soils, in part by generating soil organic matter, which sequesters Carbon in the process (Soil Organic Matter is 58% Carbon).

    A simple look at existing degrading desert vs. healthy grassland environments should be enough demonstrate what the ‘local net climate effects’ might be of this approach. The same would be true for its effects on net erosion. Livestock have the capacity to greatly improve local climates, erosion rates, water infiltration, plant yield, soil health, etc, etc, when well managed using a holistic planned grazing approach. (For example, see this paper:
    When an entire order of animals is essentially missing from environments that co-evolved with that role functioning effectively – namely large herbivores biologically cycling massive amounts of carbon in seasonally dry grasslands – then filling this ecological role and dynamic with existing available livestock seems to present little risk compared to reward.

  8. This is great without a doubt, but how do we get it out there on the planet and have everyone practice it?
    Wherever I look at the farm land around me I see a system that is not just terminal, but at end stage. Either actively eroding and the last remaining trees dying or the system being kept in a prolonged death with fossil fuel inputs which are sending the farmer to an early grave through debt or toxins.

    We have all the answers before us in Holistic Management but we seem to be a bit short on out ability to ‘sell’ this as the great alternative that it is.

    I have been cell grazing horses and chickens for the past 18 months and the grass growth is stunning, I can see why Savory mentions a 400 percent increase in capacity.
    The way I see it, we could graze twice the amount of animals on half the amount of land.
    Does anyone have ideas or experience in getting this concept spread through the mainstream farming community?
    Aapo- ‘but I wonder if this is truly good for the climate’
    This is about reversing desertification as well as carbon sequestration etc. The effects as a whole will far outweigh the sum of its parts. You can get very caught up in wanting evidence for everything, yet as we sit back waiting for proof we waste time when we desperately need actions away from destructive processes and into Abundance Creating ones.
    Michal- there are lots of You Tubes with Allan Savory and others which explain how using livestock repairs erosion, its all to do with timing and numbers. By mimicking natures pattern with many hooves very briefly on a concentrated patch of ground and those animals do not return to that patch until the grass is at a specific stage of its growth cycle. Joel Salatin also explains it very well in his book Salad Bar Beef. Hope that helps.

  9. Hi, I am familiar with Savory’s work, and I have a permaculture farm in Vermont where I lease some land to a polyface farmer. I have been wondering about the comparison of water use, soil-building, greenhouse gas production, and nutrient quality between animal based restorative practices and the practices outlined by Geoff Lawton in Greening the Desert, where he appears to use plants and water catchment as the main tools for building soil and growing food. I wonder if the ecosystem-building tools Lawton shows might not be a better net carbon and water gain given that: grazing cattle each require 20-30 gallons of water per day, they produce 50% more methane digesting grass vs grain, methane has 21 times more greenhouse gas effect than CO2, and the food products–milk and meat–do not expressly enhance health, whereas the best nutritional science incontrovertibly shows how nutrient dense plants enhance health. So we are talking about the health of an entire system, including humans, including soil, including animals. I would love to study the relative benefits and drawbacks of these two systems, and to learn what, if any extent animals/ruminants can help enhance the health of the ecosystem. While snapshots can always be compelling, taking the whole system into account seems the most convincing. There is little data on these questions, and a lot of very strong conviction. I want very much to consider these questions with an open mind and would love to know of any good resources to consult.

  10. Where can we see how this process is done. Where do the animals get their feed and water from if you cant find a blade of grass? If they are not eating, Im guessing they wont be pooping much. Please send me to videos or links showing how they do this.

  11. Where can we see how this process is done. Where do the animals get their feed and water from if you cant find a blade of grass? If they are not eating, Im guessing they wont be pooping much. Please send me to videos or links showing how they do this

  12. With due diligence in self education, it is easy to see that there are many philosophies and techniques available to us to “follow nature” and this is just one of many. The whole idea behind “design” is to do it with what exists already, make that come back, restore what nature did before we came. All these techniques, spread over the earth will be needed not only to stop our climate change problems but our scarcity vs population problems. We need to change the dynamic completely, not just philosophically but with tangible, demonstrable examples. We have to walk the walk while we are talking the talk. If that isn’t happening, aren’t we really doing just “feel good” work?

    I found Mark Shepard Restoration Agriculture talk on youtube (2.5 hrs) one of the best I’ve come across. Demonstrable both ecologically and economically.

    At least I can say that I have hope again.

  13. All Sizzle and No Steak
    Why Allan Savory’s TED talk about how cattle can reverse global warming is dead wrong.

    For all the intuitive appeal of ‘holistic management’, Savory’s hypothesis is beset with caveats. The most systematic research trial supporting Savory’s claims, the Charter Grazing Trials, was undertaken in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe today) between 1969 and 1975. Given the ecological vagaries of deserts worldwide, one could certainly question whether Savory’s research on a 6,200-acre spot of semiarid African land holds any relevance for the rest of the world’s 12 billion acres of desert. Extrapolation seems even more dubious when you consider that a comprehensive review of Savory’s trial and other similar trials, published in 2002, found that Savory’s signature high-stocking density and rapid-fire rotation plan did not lead to a perfectly choreographed symbiosis between grass and beast…

    See link for the rest of article.

  14. Caelan, I have to ask, in light of reading your link, have you ever rotationally grazed anything? Are you withing distance of anyone who has, so you can observe the soil building and excellent grass growth which accompanies it.
    In just 2 years of cell grazing around country that wasn’t even worth fencing I am a total convert to the potential of this technique.
    I always wonder about peoples agenda when they put time and effort into finding flaws with things that actually do work on the ground.
    I find it works best when I observe and interact and observe again.
    I find the action of hooves scuffing the most compacted areas of soil does in fact loosen it, creating little impressions where seeds and water accumulate, as an example of just one small successful part.
    My property now has more grass than this land has probably seen post European colonization.
    Does the article in your link bag the whole idea of Holistic Management? I wonder what that is all about? Its a great system, emphasis on the word system, it’s a collection of techniques and timing.
    The irony is that consuming large quantities of beef will come to an end with the end of the fossil fuel era. I know we won’t be consuming beef at the rate we are now, in fact we won’t be consuming anything at the rate we are now.
    As Permaculturists we certainly have the understanding and state of mind to reduce our consumption of our own volition.
    And ironically also is the fact that confinement systems of beef management really are the devil we should be spending time finding evidence against.
    Isn’t it better to have a go at techniques that have varying degrees of beneficial results than to never try?
    Wanting to see evidence that Holistic Management and rotational grazing as some sort of silver bullet for climate change is folly, and likewise branding it not worthwhile when results are variable in different locations.
    I would prefer to encourage people to try many different arrangements of techniques, or Design.
    To do otherwise is dis-empowering.
    Carolyn Payne
    Mudlark Permaculture

    1. HI Carolyn, I have often wondered why the improvement of grassland would be an important measure of ecosystem health over the establishment of successional treed systems. It seems like healthy grasses would be wonderful–IF you wanted to use them as animal feed. But if you weren’t using open grass/prior forest as ruminant feed per se, would grazing be the best system for growing overall ecosystem health, with trees as the “major” of that system? What if you allowed the pasture to just go to weeds, cut those weeds, used as mulch in a treed system? I guess I’m trying to get at the larger question of ecosystem health, and not just ‘pasture health’…I would presume this to be the goal of holistic management, which as I understand is not just about grazing, yes? Thank you.

  15. Hi Carolyn,
    My post was simply a heads-up from an article arrived at, in the interest of sharing info. Best with your work, it sounds nice.

  16. A wonderful HOPeful solution – I do hope you get many peoples onboard… the re-stocking should be attracting a more DIVERSE range of grazing animals – zebra, gazelle, deer, buffalo etc etc… with the increase in predatory animals back too.

  17. How do we get politicians interested in this? The people we elect to help us manage the planet and our parts of it, need to be informed so that sensible policies can be formulated, farmers encouraged to undertake these systems and harmful practices minimized.

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