The Savory system – even in the Karoo

Allan Savory’s approach to veld management is reversing desertification around the world.

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There are few South African farmers who haven’t heard about Allan Savory’s approach to veld management, an approach based on his observations of wildlife. Savory’s system is based on the principle of the movement of large herds of game travelling across the plains in search of fresh grazing, leaving their dung and urine behind. Their hooves trample the grass and create soil conditions that improve rainfall retention and reduce moisture loss. Hoof impact promotes grass seed germination.

But is the Savory system applicable to a practical farming situation? I must admit that I had my doubts until I visited Dave and Kay Quinton in Molteno in the Eastern Cape. They have transformed veld in poor condition into highly productive areas by applying Allan Savory’s principles. Although I had written about their success in this column, I did not fully comprehend the connection between migratory herds grazing the plains and small herds grazing fenced camps in a livestock farming operation.

A loud wake-up call
Well, the lights went on when I watched a video of an Allan Savory talk on the TED Show in the USA. Download this video, then show it to your wife, children and friends! That’s what I’ve done and each time I watch it, I see something important I missed before. This scary, fascinating and educational video is certainly a wake-up call.

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It shows how the survival of the human race is being seriously threatened by the destruction of natural grazing and the subsequent formation of deserts – deserts that are rapidly expanding in many regions of the world. I can hear you saying, “What has that got to do with me and my veld management?” Suffice it to say that once you have watched the video, you won’t be asking that question – the answer will be as clear and refreshing as mountain water.

Allan Savory is an ecologist. Early on in his career, he was responsible for the identification and laying out of large tracts of land for game reserves in Zimbabwe. Inhabitants of the areas selected had to be moved, with their cattle, sheep and dogs.
Allan admits that he disliked livestock intensely because of the perceived damage they do to the veld – overgrazing of veld by livestock has always been seen to be the primary cause of desertification.

Read: The natural way

He was shocked to discover that the veld condition did not improve after the people and their animals had gone. He then made a scientific study, which led him to conclude that the large number of elephants were the primary cause of the veld deteriorating. His findings were validated by a team of scientists, and 40 000 elephants were culled.

Allan says this was the greatest blunder of his life. The removal of the elephants did not stop, let alone reverse veld degradation. He decided to dedicate his life to finding a solution to the problem. Allan found important pointers to the source of the problem in the national parks of the western USA. After the removal of livestock in these parks, the natural grass gradually disappeared with resultant soil erosion and donga formation. Some parks turned into deserts.

This led him to conclude that livestock is essential for the sustained productivity of natural grasslands, provided it uses the veld in a way that mimics nature – large herds grazed in camps for very short periods before being moved to the next camp. Of the utmost importance is a long rest period between re-grazing of any camp.

In closing, I want to mention that more than 15 million hectares of veld worldwide is improving due to the application of the Savory system. Deserts have turned into lush pasture – even in the Karoo.

John Fair is a pasture consultant. He heads up Fair’s Biofarm Assist, and can be contacted on 058 622 3585 or [email protected].