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PIP COURTNEY, PRESENTER: It’s Landcare month across Australia, an opportunity for rural and regional communities to focus on what’s working and what isn’t in terms of sustainable land management.
With half of Queensland officially drought declared, the timing’s just right for a national speaking tour by international rangelands biologist and educator Allan Savory.
He argues more cattle, not less is the solution to improving pastures and profits.
The ABC’s rural and regional reporter, Pete Lewis, caught up with him in Brisbane.
ALLAN SAVORY, CENTER FOR HOLISTIC MANAGEMENT: The problem with holistic management is it’s so profoundly simple, but it’s not easy. And it’s profoundly simple. You’re almost insulting people’s intelligence to explain it twice, just about making better decisions of where you want to go in your life, bringing in environmental, social, economic issues simultaneously. But it’s not easy because it’s such a change for us to even think that way.
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JACK PALANCE, ACTOR (clip from the film City Slickers, 1991): None of you get it. Do you know what the secret of life is?
BILLY CRYSTAL, ACTOR: No. What?
JACK PALANCE: This. (Holds up index finger)
BILLY CRYSTAL: Your finger?
JACK PALANCE: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean s**t.
BILLY CRYSTAL: That’s great, but what’s the one thing?
JACK PALANCE: That’s what you got to figure out.
(End of excerpt)
PETE LEWIS, REPORTER: What Allan Savory has in mind is a decision-making process focused on a single holistic goal. Holistic means the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; in other words, never take your eye off the big picture when making decisions about the detail.
ALLAN SAVORY: Some people get it very quickly and it’s profoundly simple and some people have come to training year after year after year and they just never get it.
PETE LEWIS: I first encountered Allan Savory and holistic management at a conference in Orange in Central Western NSW back in 1999.
JOHN CHUDLEIGH, AGRICULTURAL ANALYST: And many of us find our comfort zone very hard to break out of and do things that are quite different, that many of our neighbours mightn’t quite approve.
But unless we do, you’ll just go down with the rest of your neighbours who are complaining all the time about how the world is crashing commodity prices, how the world is cruel, how the Government ought to do something. But it’s you that is the answer.
PETE LEWIS: Allan Savory, welcome back to Australia.
ALLAN SAVORY: Well thank you, Peter. Good to be back.
PETE LEWIS: 15 years is scarcely a blink in the eye in terms of the age of the planet, but since your first workshops here there’s really been something of a revolution, hasn’t there, in environmental and land management literacy? And you’ve played your part in terms of animal impact and holistic decision-making. Have you made a difference?
ALLAN SAVORY: We are making a difference, yes. Despite all the obstacles, people are managing holistically, as far as we know, on about 40 million acres at least – it’s probably way over that; we’re being conservative – on five of the seven continents. You know, so that’s lot of progress.
PETE LEWIS: And do Australians get it quicker than anybody else or about the same pace or are we behind?
ALLAN SAVORY: I don’t think you’re brighter than others. (Laughs) No, but there is a big movement in Australia, but it needs to expand because your problems are out-pacing it.
PETE LEWIS: Your speaking tour this time coincides with Landcare month and it also coincides with severe drought across much of the continent. That obviously is the severest test of all for land managers and livestock managers, the hardest-hit of whom would be suffering emotional, physical and financially at the moment. What’s your message for those people?
ALLAN SAVORY: Well, management has to be holistic. I don’t think that’s arguable. And it needs to embrace the latest in our current science, traditional knowledge and other sources and I don’t think any intelligent person can argue against that, so we need to bring that about. And when we do, and the people that are doing that already, they’re getting through droughts far better than others around them. You’re experiencing that in Australia.
GEORGE KING, WHITNEY PASTORAL COMPANY: The reason we’ve got all our cows together like this in a tight mob and moving them on, we’re basically mimicking nature. If you’ve seen the wildlife African films, with, say, 10,000 wildebeest in a mob and a host of predators all around them, there’s lions and cheetahs and wolves working day and night trying to get a beast to come out of the mob.
And when they come into a bit of country like this, they graze it right down. Whatever they don’t graze, they trample into the ground. They defecate, urinate all over it, basically foul the whole area and the whole mob moves on, together. So, basically all we’re doing is mimicking nature.
PETE LEWIS: George King’s learned from his holistic training that a couple of thousand carefully managed cows and calves can be manipulated into carrying out a tremendous amount of pasture improvement. And to satisfy the “I’ll only believe it when I see it” sceptics, he’s also kept meticulous records of the changes on the ground here from 1996 to the present day.
???: The biggest changes have been environmental. We’ve gone from non-productive annual grasses which created a drought every year, no matter whether we had rain or not, to the beginnings of very good perennial pastures which are healthy and our stock looked good and we’re making a profit.
PETE LEWIS: Yet the sceptics remain. I mean, you remain a target for people to say, “It doesn’t work. It can’t work.”
ALLAN SAVORY: That’s normal. That’s been the norm since Galileo; the first Hungarian doctor that showed that if you washed your hands between cutting up corpses and going to the maternity ward, you’d save thousands of women’s lives. The experts condemned him. He ended in a mental home. And as I like to say, “I was insane at the beginning,” so they haven’t been able to drive me there. But the important point is we’re breaking through, the public is getting more aware and things will change.
PETE LEWIS: Now you’ve made the point previously that your particular approach seems to be taken up much quicker by individuals and family-sized operations, rather than the corporates, by academia or bureaucracy.
ALLAN SAVORY: Yes, institutional inertia, bureaucracy is holding up progress, is endangering the world now. The blockages to progress are not natural. They’re 100 per cent human, man-made, if you like, and they’re institutional. There aren’t private individuals holding us up, public holding us up.
The knowledge that’s required, I genuinely believe, to produce agriculture that’ll produce more food than eroding soil, is already available in Australia and other countries. The blockages are entirely institutional.
PETE LEWIS: Allan Savory, good to have you back in the country. Thanks for your time.
ALLAN SAVORY: Thank you. [/expand]