Reports released!

The first two research reports produced by the RHoMPAS team have been released! We invite our readers to take a look, and to check the site often for the latest announcements and research. As always, we invite our readers to send us their comments and questions, whether about the blog-style posts, research reports, or more generally science and practice around holistic management! (A contact form can be found here.)

RHoMPAS Report Series, Report 1

The first in the RHoMPAS Report Series is live and available on our Publications page. This report, titled “Who’s Afraid of Allan Savory? Probing the impact of one influential author”, is an in-depth analysis of 337 articles and short publications citing HM founder Allan Savory from 1980-2015. Our analysis looks at geographic and temporal patterns in authors, studies, subject matter and, where applicable, attitudes to HM, as well as considering bibliographic networks (i.e., authors’ literature references).

The work done in this report may be used to better understand attitudes to HM as a general practice, and supports the RHoMPAS team on our journey to “Reconciling Holistic Management Practice and Science”. We hope you enjoy it.

Probing the Divide

Ours is not the first academic study to look into the divide between HM practitioners’ and agricultural experimenters’ experiences with the practice. In 2008, Briske et al. wrote an article attempting to reconcile “perception and experimental evidence”. Five years later, Teague et al. published a similar paper, examining the “perceptual dichotomy between research results and rancher experience”. These two lead authors are both from the same university — Texas A&M, yet have opposite points of view when it comes to the merits and viability of HM as a grazing practice. The titles of their papers alone illustrate their leanings: Briske et al.’s use of the term ‘perception’ clearly illustrates their preference for experimental evidence, whereas Teague et al. place research results and ranchers’ experiences on equal planes, qualifying only the divide between the two as ‘perceptual’. These two papers provide a crash course on the tug-of-war around HM, and the need for a new way of resolving the differences. Let us know if you have any thoughts or ideas, and stay tuned for further updates as RHoMPAS progresses, hoping to help reconcile HM practice and science along the way.

References

Briske, D.D., Derner, J.D., Brown, J.R., Fuhlendorf, S.D., Teague, W.R., … Willms, W.D. (2008). Rotational grazing on rangelands: Reconciliation of perception and experimental evidence. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 61(1), 3-17. DOI: 10.2111/06-159R.1

Teague, R., Provenza, F., Kreuter, U., Steffens, T., & Barnes, M. (2013). Multi-paddock grazing on rangelands: Why the perceptual dichotomy between research results and rancher experience? Journal of Environmental Management, 128, 699-717. DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2013.05.064

What does Twitter think of HM?

You may have noticed our live Twitter feed in the right sidebar. This gathers tweets using the search query “holistic management” OR #holisticmanagement OR “cell grazing” OR #shortdurationgrazing OR “short duration grazing” OR #rotational grazing OR “rotational grazing” OR “allan savory”. To understand the conversation around HM, it’s important to look beyond the academic literature. We are curious about how discussion about HM unfolds on a daily basis.

We used the social network analysis tool Netlytic, created by the Social Media Lab at Ryerson University, to collect the same tweets that our Twitter feed retrieves. Netlytic gathered data for three days, and we then performed text and network analyses.

Text Analysis

Not surprisingly, “grazing” was the most common term used, along with terms like “moving”, “cattle”, “cell”, and “system”. The word cloud below illustrates this. Many of the most-used terms came from a single, popular tweet by Gareth Davies, a self-proclaimed “grazing enthusiast” based in the UK.

Text analyses and visualizations are useful in understanding current vocabulary, and discovering new terms. For example, prior to this exercise we were unaware of “#AgChatOz” – an online community of rural and urban individuals uses this hashtag to organize their discussion of agricultural issues.

Created using wordle.net

Created using wordle.net

Network Analysis

We were also curious about the nature of HM community from a social network point of view. How much two-way discussion is taking place, versus individuals broadcasting their views and experiences? It turns out that over the three days data were collected, there were no conversations taking place. However, re-tweets were common. The image below illustrates the mini-groups taking part in this discussion – clear holes in the network can be seen.

HM-themed Twitter network - June 2-4, 2015

HM-themed Twitter network – June 2-4, 2015

The network’s gaps likely hinder the participants from engaging in meaningful discussion about HM. The community may be looking for ways to strengthen their network and deepen their conversation and knowledge-sharing. They could reach out beyond their immediate network of peers to others also talking about HM. As a start, the chart below identifies the top ten posters over the three days data were collected – these individuals are the most active and offer a promising gateway into broadening the HM discussion.

TopTenPosters

Finally, an examination of the tweets themselves showed that the Twitter discussion is overwhelmingly pro-HM. Most of the Twitter accounts belonged to practitioners and advocates. Twitter as an arena of discussion does not represent the myriad of perspectives on the utility of HM. What are the implications of this? Do these Twitter users seek out the other side of the debate? Do HM critics turn to Twitter for information or to engage in the discussion that is taking place? How can tools like Twitter be leveraged to better our understanding of the merits of different agricultural practices?

New policy support for HM in Australia

One of the biggest barriers to uptake of a farm-scale change like holistic management is the building of fences and water supply for all the smaller paddocks required to run a high-intensity short-duration rotational grazing regime. Australia has announced federal tax deductions for such infrastructure, effective July 2016, along with an endorsement of ‘cell grazing’ by Treasurer, Joe Hockey:

“… This initiative will help with cell farming, which is far more productive and is actually better for the environment … A lot of farmers don’t erect fences because it becomes expensive, but the more fencing we have, and the better utilisation of existing farmland through cell farming, you’re going to see a better outcome.”

Hard to know if this is related to the endorsement of HM in the 2010 report from the Australian House of Representatives Inquiry into the role of government in assisting Australian farmers to adapt to the impacts of climate change, which suggested HM as a climate adaptive practice [full disclosure – I submitted some evidence to this Inquiry and appeared to give evidence]. The federal budget package also includes more drought-related loans, which represents more buffering and technological fixes, rather than adaptation.

Allan Savory on the TED Stage – VIDEO

Allan Savory, the founder of Holistic Management and acclaimed ecologist, took to the TED Stage in February of 2013. In his talk, Savory discusses his background in environmental management in Zimbabwe, and his struggles early in his career to improve the health of increasingly arid ecosystems and the biodiversity present there. Savory then approached the problem from an innovative angle: use livestock to mimic the wild roving herds of years gone by, supporting natural grass life-cycle processes, and reversing the process of desertification.

Savory’s TED Talk sparked bitter controversy, and criticisms from academics and environmentalists alike. Future posts will present opposing viewpoints.

Watch the video.

Background – Presenting Allan Savory

Allan Savory is credited as the founder of Holistic Management. Originally from Zimbabwe, Savory has worked extensively with livestock agriculture as a means of reversing desertification. Upon immigrating to the United States, he co-founded the Center for Holistic Management (1984 – later renamed to Holistic Management International), the Zimbabwe-based Africa Centre for Holistic Management (1992), and the Savory Institute (2009).

Savory’s foundational 1991 article provides excellent background on the practice of HM.

Savory, A. (1991). Holistic Resource Management: A conceptual framework for ecologically sound economic modelling. Ecological Economics, 3(3), 181-191. DOI: 10.1016/0921-8009(91)90031-9

Click here for an open access version of the PDF.

Allan Savory