Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
For many years, large areas of grasslands have been turning into barren deserts. This process, called desertification is happening at an alarming rate around the world. The majority of these non-humid grasslands are in Africa, which has the highest deforestation rate of all continents on the globe. Forest destruction and other forms of land degradation caused by human activities have transformed vast areas of Africa's once grazeable and farmable land into barren landscapes. Many of Africa’s gravest problems stem directly from environmental degradation: soil erosion, decreased land productivity, increased droughts, floods, food insecurity, social breakdown and increasing violence.
In the past, large herds of herbivores moved over the grasslands. These herds grazed, defecated, stomped and salivated as they moved around, building soil and deepening plant roots. Over time, the wild herds were replaced by small numbers of domestic, sedentary cattle. Without the constant activity of large numbers of properly managed livestock, the cycle of biological decay on the grasslands was interrupted and the once-rich soil turned into dry, exposed desert land, dramatically decreasing the ability of soil to absorb water. In addition to this, desertification plays a critical role in climate change. Dry, bare soil is unable to store carbon and releases it into the atmosphere. According to the United Nations, one-third of the earth’s land surface (10 billion acres/4 billion hectares) is threatened by desertification, the bulk of which is rangelands. These are similar to croplands in that if the soil is bare any time of the year, they will deteriorate and release previously stored carbon. Thus, the desertification of these lands will have considerable effect on carbon levels in our atmosphere.
Desertification is deeply connected to other environmental and social challenges, threatening to reverse the gains in sustainable development that we have seen in many parts of the world. It is a process that can inherently destabilize societies and deepen poverty. However, reductionist science and land management theory has failed to deal with this complexity and has long held that livestock contribute towards desertification. Standard land and livestock management’s response to desertification in semi-arid regions is to decrease the number (or entirely remove) cattle and allow the land to rest. This conventional approach fails to look at this problem holistically, and, instead, seeks isolated solutions for each of the symptoms of environmental deterioration without considering the natural functioning of these interlocking pieces and the role that livestock can play in this. For example, many well-intended tree-planting projects that attempt to reverse desertification (for example, in Zimbabwe and Zambia) have failed to address the problem in a way that accounts for this interconnected system. Tree planting can only achieve short-term success in higher rainfall environments and where the soil is able to absorb water. In most affected areas of Africa and the world, rainfall is too low for trees to provide full soil cover and desertification has reduced the soil’s ability to absorb the rain. Allan is striving to shift mindsets and show that livestock, when properly managed and kept on the move, can be an essential element in reversing desertification and improving the soil’s ability to absorb water and lock in carbon.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Mainstream science and traditional land management techniques have failed to deal with the complexity of desertification in Africa, often attributing it to the overstocking of livestock, communal land tenure, and overpopulation. Although much has been done to encourage people to destock, resettle and move away from livestock-based livelihoods, desertification and environmental deterioration continue to worsen. Allan's singular insight is that grasslands and herbivores evolved in step with one another; and that livestock, if properly managed and kept on the move, can be an important tool in the prevention and recovery of deforested land. While many see livestock as a barrier to adequately rested and healthy land, Allan has demonstrated that we can recover and prevent desertified land by changing the management of livestock so that it mimics the behavior of the once vast herds of grazing animals and predators of Africa’s savannahs.
Allan is proving that the way we treat our rangelands is critical to reversing desertification and combating climate change by bringing a unique understanding of how we can mimic the natural functioning of animals and rangelands to heal the land and lock carbon into soils. Unlike conventional techniques that promote the removal of cattle and the resting of land, Allan argues that, while livestock may be part of the problem, they can also be an important part of the solution. Grass needs to be grazed in order to be healthy, and animals stimulate plant growth and their waste provides nutrient-rich fertilizer for the soil. Additionally, they cycle dead plants back to the surface, which allows sunlight to reach the low-growing parts. When a predator comes onto the scene, the animals bunch together and flee as a herd, their hooves breaking up and aerating the soil. Then, on a new patch of land, the process starts again. In this way, all plants are nibbled on but none are overgrazed. This also prevents the land from over resting, which leads to accumulated dead plant material that blocks sunlight and hinders new growth. Allan’s Holistic Management framework includes land management techniques that allow livestock to mimic this natural, and much needed, behavior of animals and results in increased land productivity, water availability, wildlife diversity and improved livelihoods for those who depend on the land.
Allan has demonstrated time and again in Africa, Australia and North America that properly managed livestock are essential to land restoration. With the right techniques, plant growth is lusher, the water table is higher, wildlife thrives and soil carbon increases. Thousands of land, livestock and wildlife managers use his methodology and are demonstrating consistent results on over 30 million acres across four continents. Today, thousands of families, corporations and businesses are successfully using Allan’s insight to radically improve the quality of their lives and regenerate the resource base that sustains them.