Allan Savory is a Zimbabwean ecologist, livestock farmer, environmentalist, and president and co-founder of the Savory Institute. He originated Holistic management, a systems thinking approach to managing resources.
Savory advocates using bunched and moving livestock to what he claims mimics nature, as a means to heal the environment, stating "only livestock can reverse desertification. There is no other known tool available to humans with which to address desertification that is contributing not only to climate change but also to much of the poverty, emigration, violence, etc. in the seriously affected regions of the world." "Only livestock can save us."
Savory received the 2003 Banksia International Award and won the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge. Prince Charles called him "a remarkable man" and noted farmer Joel Salatin wrote, "History will vindicate Allan Savory as one of the greatest ecologists of all time."
According to Savory, he has worked on the problem of land degradation (desertification) as early as 1955 in Northern Rhodesia, where he served in the Colonial Service as Provincial Game Officer, Northern and Luapula Provinces. He also claims to have continued this work in Southern Rhodesia first as a research officer in the Game Department, and even claims to have been an independent scientist and international consultant.
He advocated for slaughtering large numbers of elephants up until 1969 based on the idea that they were destroying their habitat. His research, which he claims was validated by a committee of scientists, led to the government culling 10,000s of elephants in following years. However, this did not reverse the degradation of the land. He has called the decision to advocate for the slaughter of large numbers of elephants "the saddest and greatest blunder of my life."
This unnecessary massacre, brought about by interpreting supposed research data to fit the prevailing world-view that too many animals causes overgrazing and overbrowsing, led to Savory becoming determined to solve the problem, which eventually led to his development of the holistic framework for decision-making and to holistic planned grazing, and to his book, Holistic Management: A New Decision Making Framework, written with his wife Jody Butterfield.
Savory was influenced by earlier work of French agronomist André Voisin who established that overgrazing resulted from the amount of time plants were exposed to animals, not from too many animals in any given area. Savory saw this as a solution to overgrazing, and believed that overgrazing was caused by leaving cattle too long and returning them too soon, rather than the size of the herd.
After leaving Zimbabwe, Savory worked from the Cayman Islands into the Americas, introducing holistic planned grazing as a process of management to reverse desertification of 'brittle' grasslands by carefully planning movements of dense herds of livestock to mimic those found in nature, allowing sufficient time for the plants to fully recover before re-grazing.
Savory immigrated to the US, and with his wife Jody Butterfield founded the Center for Holistic Management in 1984. Its name was later changed to the Savory Center and later Holistic Management International. In 2009 Savory left HMI and formed the Savory Institute. Savory, Butterfield and philanthropist Sam Brown formed the Africa Centre for Holistic Management, based in Zimbabwe in 1992 on 2,520 hectares (6,200 acres) of land Savory donated for the benefit of the people of Africa as a learning/training site for holistic management.
Thousands of farmers, ranchers, pastoralists and various organizations are working globally to restore grasslands through the teaching and practice of holistic management and holistic decision making. This includes conservation projects in the US, Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Canada, and Australia in which various NGOs, government agencies and universities are practicing holistic management and its holistic planned grazing to reverse desertification using livestock as the main agent of change to restore the environment, increase ground cover, soil organic matter and water retention, replenish streams, and combat biodiversity loss.
In 2003 Australia honored Savory with the Banksia International Award "for the person doing the most for the environment on a global scale" and in 2010, Savory and the Africa Centre for Holistic Management won The Buckminster Fuller Challenge, an annual international design competition awarding $100,000 "to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity's most pressing problems."
In a 2012 address to the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress, Prince Charles said:
"I have been particularly fascinated, for example, by the work of a remarkable man called Allan Savory, in Zimbabwe and other semiarid areas, who has argued for years against the prevailing expert view that it is the simple numbers of cattle that drive overgrazing and cause fertile land to become desert. On the contrary, as he has since shown so graphically, the land needs the presence of feeding animals and their droppings for the cycle to be complete, so that soils and grassland areas stay productive. Such that, if you take grazers off the land and lock them away in vast feedlots, the land dies."
His 2013 TED Talk, "How to green the desert and reverse climate change," attracted millions of views and was followed up by the release of his TED Book, The Grazing Revolution: A Radical Plan to Save the Earth. In his TED Talk Savory asks, "What are we going to do?"
"There is only one option, I'll repeat to you, only one option left to climatologists and scientists, and that is to do the unthinkable, and to use livestock, bunched and moving, as a proxy for former herds and predators, and mimic nature. There is no other alternative left to mankind."
"The number one public enemy is the cow." says Savory. "But the number one tool that can save mankind is the cow. We need every cow we can get back out on the range. It is almost criminal to have them in feedlots which are inhumane, antisocial, and environmentally and economically unsound."
He condemns the practice of slash-and-burn cultivation of forests and grasslands, saying that it "leaves the soil bare, releasing carbon, and worse than that, burning one hectare of grassland gives off more, and more damaging, pollutants than 6,000 cars. And we are burning in Africa, every single year, more than one billion hectares of grasslands, and almost nobody is talking about it."