by Dr. Joseph Mercola
The conversion of large amounts of fertile land to
desert has long been thought to be caused by
livestock, such as sheep and cattle overgrazing and
giving off methane. This has now been shown to be
incorrect, as removing animals to protect lands
speeds up desertification
According to Allan Savory, an African ecologist,
dramatically increasing the number of grazing
livestock is the only thing that can reverse both
desertification and climate change
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and
large-scale monocrop farms directly contribute to
climate change and environmental pollution
To improve soil quality, we must improve its ability
to maintain water. Once land has turned to bone-dry
desert, any rain simply evaporates and/or runs off.
The solution is twofold: The ground must be covered
with vegetation, and animals must roam across the
In the documentary, "Running Out of Time," Savory
details his holistic herd and land management plan,
and shows how land that has turned to desert can be
brought back to become fertile and productive once
again through the use of livestock
The Savory Institute
documentary "Running Out of Time" (below video), features
ecologist and international consultant
Allan Savory, who in a
2013 TED Talk discussed how grazing livestock is the solution
to our ever-growing climate change problem:
Born and raised in
Zimbabwe, Savory is a passionate conservationist.
He founded the Africa Centre for Holistic Management 1
(ACHM) in 1992, to support the adoption of holistic land management
practices in Southern Africa in order to reduce and reverse land
degradation 2 that threatens the very survival of
mankind, as without healthy productive soil, we cannot grow food.
Central teachings taught
by ACHM include how to:
catchments and river flow
livestock and wildlife production
Raise crop yields
through concentrated animal impact
or degraded land
Employ low stress
Are a Crucial Part of the Solution
Current agricultural practices encourage the degradation of soil,
causing desertification (when fertile land dries up and turns to
Desertification happens when we create too much bare ground.
areas where a high level of humidity is guaranteed, desertification
cannot occur. Ground cover allows for
trapping of water, preventing the water from evaporating.
to Savory, a staggering two-thirds of the landmass on earth is
This situation can only be effectively reversed by dramatically
increasing the number of grazing livestock, Savory says.
In essence, it's not an
excess of livestock that are causing the problem, but that we have
far too few, and the livestock we do have, we're not managing
To improve soil quality, we must improve its ability to
maintain water. Once land has turned to
bone-dry desert, any rain simply evaporates and/or runs off.
The solution is twofold:
The ground must be covered with vegetation,
and animals must roam across the land.
The animals must be bunched
and kept moving to avoid overgrazing, thereby mimicking the movement
of large wild herds.
The animals serve several
crucial functions on the land, as they:
Graze on plants,
exposing the plants' growth points to sunlight, which
Trample the soil,
which breaks capped earth allowing for aeration
Press seeds into
the soil with their hooves, thereby increasing the chances
of germination and diversity of plants
Press down dying
and decaying grasses, allowing microorganisms in the soil to
go to work to decompose the plant material
soil with their waste
The documentary shows and
explains how Savory's system works in the real world, on his own
farm and elsewhere - and how the African wildlife is integrated with
the livestock - and how local communities that have adopted the
program have massively improved their living conditions.
In one village, where they could only produce enough food for three
months out of the year, they now grow ample food year-round. The
ACHM trains farmers from all-around the world, not just locals, and
is planning about 100 international training hubs.
Online training is also
in the works.
Lessons Learned From
the Unnecessary Massacre of 40,000 Elephants
In his 2013 TED Talk (above video), Savory recounts how, as a young
biologist, he was involved in setting aside large swaths of African
land as future national parks.
This involved removing
native tribes from the land to protect animals.
Interestingly, as soon as the natives were removed, the land began
to deteriorate. At that point, he became convinced that there were
too many elephants, and a team of experts agreed with his theory,
which required the removal of elephants to a number they thought the
land could sustain.
As a result, 40,000 elephants were slaughtered in an effort to stop
the damage to the national parks.
Yet the land destruction only got
worse rather than better. Savory calls the decision "the greatest
blunder" of his life. Fortunately, the utter failure cemented his
determination to dedicate his life to finding solutions.
Areas of U.S. national parks are now turning to desert as badly as
areas in Africa, and studies have shown that whenever cattle are
removed from an area to protect it from desertification, the
opposite results. It gets worse.
According to Savory, the reason for
this is because we've completely misunderstood the causes of
We've also failed to understand how desertification affects our
global climate. He explains that barren earth is much cooler at dawn
and much hotter at midday.
When land is left barren, it changes the
microclimate on that swath of land.
"Once you've done that to more
than half of land mass on planet, you're changing macroclimate," he
We've failed to realize that in seasonal humidity environments, the
soil and vegetation developed with very large numbers of grazing
animals meandering through.
Along with these herds came ferocious
pack hunting predators. The primary defense against these predators
was the herd size. The larger the herd, the safer the individual
animal within the herd.
These large herds deposited dung and urine all over the grasses
(their food), and so they would keep moving from one area to the
next. This constant movement of large herds naturally prevented
overgrazing of plants, while periodic trampling ensured protective
covering of the soil.
As explained by Savory, grasses must degrade biologically before
next growing season.
This easily occurs if the grass is trampled
into the ground. If it does not decay biologically, it shifts into
oxidation - a very slow process that results in bare soil, which
then ends up releasing carbon rather than trapping and storing it.
To prevent this scenario, we've traditionally used fire.
the ground also leaves soil bare to release carbon. In addition,
burning just 1 hectare (just under 2.5 acres) of grasses gives off
more pollution than 6,000 cars.
According to Savory, more than
billion hectares (2.4 billion acres) of grassland are burned in
Africa each year.
How Federal Policy Contributes to Climate Change Woes
In the U.S., federal policy is still worsening the environmental
concerns addressed by Savory in his TED Talk (above video).
Corn and soy - a
majority of which are
genetically engineered (GE) - have overtaken
native grasslands in a number of states, which may have a
significant impact on regional and global climate alike.
A consequence of this is that we also lose our ability to secure our
food supply long-term.
As discussed in a Mother Jones article,3 the
conversion of grasslands to crop fields is the exact opposite of
what is in our best interest.
"[T]o get ready for climate change, we should push Midwestern
farmers to switch a chunk of their corn land into pasture for cows.
The idea came from a paper 4 by University of Tennessee and Bard
College researchers, who calculated that such a move could suck up
massive amounts of carbon in soil - enough to reduce annual
greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 36 percent. In addition
to the CO2 reductions, you'd also get a bunch of high-quality,
Turns out the Midwest are doing just the
According to a 2013 paper
5 by South Dakota State University
researchers, grasslands in the Western Corn Belt, which includes
North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, is being
lost at a rate,
"comparable to deforestation rates in Brazil,
Malaysia and Indonesia."
Between 2006 and 2011, nearly 2 million acres of friendly native
grasses were lost to corn and soy, two of the staples in processed
foods that are driving chronic disease rates in an ever steepening
The same thing is happening in South America, where
native forests are leveled in order to plant soy.
The researchers claim the land being converted into corn and soy
fields is actually much better suited for grazing than crop
agriculture, as it is,
"characterized by high erosion risk and
vulnerability to drought."
So why would farmers opt to use such
risky land for their crops?
According to Mother Jones:
"Simple: Federal policy has made it a high-reward, tiny-risk
Prices for corn and soy doubled in real terms between
2006 and 2011, the authors note, driven up by federal corn-ethanol
mandates and relentless Wall Street speculation.
Then there's federally subsidized crop insurance... When farmers
manage to tease a decent crop out of their marginal land, they're
rewarded with high prices for their crop.
But if the crop fails,
subsidized insurance guarantees a decent return.
Essentially, federal farm policy, through the ethanol mandate and
the insurance program, is underwriting the expansion of corn and soy
agriculture at precisely the time it should be shrinking."
USDA Admits Current Agricultural System Is Unsustainable
According to a report 7 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA),
"Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States," our current
agricultural system, which is dominated by corn and soy, is
unsustainable in the long term.
Should temperatures rise as
predicted, the U.S. could expect to see significant declines in
yields by the middle of this century.
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have a central role
in this impending disaster.
As noted in my interviews with a number
of sustainable farming pioneers and ecological experts over the past
several years, the separation of various livestock from crop farming
is where we went completely off the rails.
This was supposedly done
to increase efficiency and reduce costs, but the hidden costs of
this segregation are enormous.
As explained in Peter Byck's short film, "One Hundred Thousand
Beating Hearts," farm animals form symbiotic relationships where one
species helps keep parasites from overwhelming another:
It is the
separation of crops and animals into two distinctly different
farming processes that has led to animal waste becoming a massive
source of toxic pollution rather than a valuable part of the
Today, food animals are reared in cages and tightly cramped
quarters, and their feed consists of grains, primarily GE corn and
soy, instead of grasses.
To prevent the inevitable spread of disease
from stress, overcrowding and lack of vitamin D, animals are
routinely fed antibiotics and other veterinary drugs.
antibiotics pose a direct threat to the environment when they run
off into our lakes, rivers, aquifers and drinking water, and drive
the rise in antibiotic-resistant disease.
In "How Factory Farming Contributes to Global Warming," Ronnie
Cummins, founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association,
"CAFOs contribute directly to global warming
9 by releasing vast
amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere - more than the
entire global transportation industry.
The air at some factory farm
test sites in the U.S. is dirtier than in America's most polluted
cities, according to the Environmental Integrity Project.
According to a 2006 report by the
Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations (FAO), animal agriculture is responsible for
18 percent of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, including
37 percent of methane emissions and 65 percent of nitrous oxide
The methane releases from billions of imprisoned animals on factory
farms are 70 times more damaging per ton to the earth's atmosphere
Indirectly, factory farms contribute to climate disruption
by their impact on deforestation and draining of wetlands, and
because of the nitrous oxide emissions from huge amounts of
pesticides used to grow the genetically engineered corn and soy fed
to animals raised in CAFOs.
Nitrous oxide pollution is even worse than methane - 200 times more
damaging per ton than CO2.
And just as animal waste leaches
antibiotics and hormones into ground and water, pesticides and
fertilizers also eventually find their way into our waterways,
further damaging the environment."
Holistic Land and Herd Management Is Key for Sustainability
The alternative to CAFOs is precisely what Savory teaches, namely
the widespread implementation of smaller-scale systems created by
independent producers and processors focused on local and regional
Following Savory's strategy, large herds could be moved across areas
in planned grazing patterns, which would be beneficial for the,
health of the animals,
subsequently the health of humans consuming those animals.
There's no denying that rising population, rapid conversion of
fertile land to deserts and global climate change is a serious
threat to us all.
And technology in the form of ever larger-scale,
industrial farming methods simply isn't the answer. It's only
contributing to the problem and speeding up our demise.
I believe Savory is correct when he says we have only one option,
and that is to revert back to what worked before. Allowing large
moving herds to graze on the land will address most if not all of
our most pressing issues, from food security to climate change.
As noted in a 2016 article 10 by Pure Advantage,
"There is no current
or envisioned technology that can simultaneously sequester carbon,
restore biodiversity and feed people. But livestock can."
Brown, a regenerative land management pioneer, also discussed the
importance of herd management in a 2014 interview, covered in "How
to Regenerate Soil Using Cover Crops and Regenerative Land