Holistic Management: Genius or Misguided


Desertification is a scary word. It conjures an image of barren wasteland slowly creeping across the world consuming everything green. It is a growing problem that according to the UN currently affects 52% of the land used for agriculture across the globe.

Desertification refers to the degradation of ecosystems mostly due to human actions. The causes of desertification as determined by the UN include:

  • the removal of plants and trees which keep plant soil stable
  • overgrazing of animals on vital grasses
  • intensive farming

When a recent TED talk, Allan Savory, proposed that we can actually save grasslands by doing nearly the same thing that led to their desertification in the first place, people were intrigued. But Allan Savory’s seemingly straightforward plan to reverse the process of desertification may be too good to be true.

Allan Savory’s Idea on How to Solve Desertification

Over the years there have been many ideas on how to reduce the effect of desertification, but currently, one idea stands out for its considered simpleness, holistic management. This idea was put forward in a popular TED Talk (which you can listen to here) by Allan Savory, an ecologist.

Holistic management is an agricultural planning system that allows pastoralists to reduce the negative impacts of desertification. Savory specifically focuses on the management of large herd animals such as gfjhgjcattle or elephants. Savory proposes that by strategically herding the animals so that their movements mimic those found in nature, the ecosystem will heal and reverse the negative effects of desertification. Savory’s primary evidence is a successful experiment conducted using holistic management in Africa. He presented miraculous pictures of his results exhibiting a barren dry before image and a green grass-filled after image. These apparent benefits have led many to hail Savory as a genius.

Another Side of the Story

This popularity has worried many environmental scientists, who are concerned that dangerous misconceptions are being spread.  After reviewing other studies related to holistic management, which did not support Savory’s views, they took to the internet to voice their concern.

Most of the issues with Savory’s approach stem from his basic misunderstanding of deserts:

Savory underestimates the importance of deserts. He seems to believe that deserts are not natural and need to be made green. Arid land just does not produce much biomass. This land stores a lot of carbon and if large animals were to walk all over it, the carbon would be released.


Grass does not have to be present for soil erosion to be prevented. Crust, which is basically grass-less land, makes up over 70% of the living ground area, and can itself provide nutrients and carbon.  Large animals destroy crust.

Holistic Management claims to mimic nature, but Savory also ignores the natural evolution of deserts and grasslands.  Early deserts were grazed by small animals, not large animals like those used in Holistic Management.

In addition Savory’s experiments were done only in a small portion of Africa on one type of desert terrain. Desert ecosystems vary widely and using a system that works on one kind of desert is potentially dangerous to a different desert.

Other Solutions

A completely different approach that many organizations propose focuses on using plants instead of animals for preventing and reversing desertification.  The UN suggests:

  • reforestation
  • managing water smartly (reduction, reuse, rainwater harvesting, etc.)
  • preventing wind from eroding topsoil by using sand fences, windbreaks
  • enriching soil with planting
  • helping native plants growth through selective pruning (residue can be used as mulching to reduce soil water loss on fields)

While holistic management is not completely without merit, due to its lack of consideration for the true nature of deserts it cannot be effective on a grand scale. Such huge issues rarely have simple solutions and attempting to fix complex problems with one-minded theories can be detrimental to the environment.

Written by: Sarah Schlemmer, Kimmie Louie, Abby Hemby, Mnenna Ezera

So What’s This new “Eco-Farming” Thing?

4A new craze is sweeping the world. No, it’s not a smartwatch, the royal baby, or a juice cleanse. It’s something much bigger and more life-changing; it’s eco-farming.

Industrial (“normal”) farming has supported US for centuries, but “we won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations,” Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur, explained.

ECO farming, the new alternative to generic farming, is a super cool technique that avoids harsh pesticides and herbicides, genetic modifications, and unnatural fertilizers. 2.6 billion revolutionary people–especially in Europe, Africa, and Asia–practice eco-farming. Not only is this method of farming really economically efficient (since it helps farmers in developing countries), but it also leads to healthier and (arguably) better tasting food. Here are some more cool facts about such farming.

  • Ecological farming gives farmers, not large companies, more responsibility in making food.
  • It helps cope with climate change (Yay…less global warming!)
  • Ecological farming increases crop yields by producing an average of 30% more food per hectare in developed countries and 80% more in developing countries than typical farming.
  • Eco-Farming has tons of health benefits! Organic varieties of berries farmed this way contain 10% more antioxidants, which help protect against disease
  • Organic pest control, a part of eco farming, results in crops that are less vulnerable to insect invasion (yay no bugs!)
  • Natural fertilizers, another part of eco-farming save costs by eliminating the need for artificial inputs, making the soil richer in organic matter and better for planting.


According to a report, Agro-ecology and the Right to Food, eco-farming can double food production in places that lack sufficient amounts of food within five to 10 years. Furthermore, this newer alternative to industrial agriculture reduces rural poverty by increasing productivity and genetic diversity, improving nutrition in local populations, and building food systems resilient to the effects of climate change. All of which were possible due to the utilization of fewer and more local resources to create more jobs.

Agricultural yields increased almost 80 percent across 57 impoverished countries after implementing eco-agricultural methods. Bangladesh, for example, raised ducks to eat the weeds in rice paddies, while Kenya 6planted desmodium, a plant that contains a natural chemical, which repels insects. Even such “primitive” methods have proven to be effective on a large scale, as the use of ducks and desmodium are cost effective and readily available.

However, there has been some concern with eco farming. Many find that such farming can be more labor-intensive because of all the skills required. Isn’t such “natural” farming a step back from the industrially advanced methods we have today? Why should people work their hardest to get excellent produce, when they could get adequate produce for much less work? Yet, these concerns prove to be short term, as eco-farming creates more jobs, allowing each individual to specialize the in the skills they prefer. Many agree that some vigorous work in the short run is worth the added jobs that eco-farming will provide. Not to mention the quality of food will increase, leaving to better health standards.

For more information, please visit: http://civileats.com/2011/03/09/eco-farming-feeds-the-world-says-un-report/

Written by: Aufia, Malvika, Shay

Hawaii’s Future Food Supply Hangs in the Air

The state of Hawaii has been increasingly dependent on foods imported from outside its native region, leading to its precarious position of not being able to sustain itself for even three days in the event of isolation from its trade partners.

Hawaii, the most isolated chain of islands in the world, has to import around 90% all of its food at a cost of more than $3 billion a year. Even the cattle that Hawaiians raise have to be shipped to the mainland where they are slaughtered, cleaned, packed and shipped back to the islands. Hawaii is so dependent on imports that if the mainland United States were unable to transport food to Hawaii for any reason, such as a natural disaster, Hawaii would run out of food in only three days.

Originally colonized by the ancient Polynesians around 500 to 700 C.E., these islands grew to support around one million natives by the time Europeans reached the Pacific using a sustainable agricultural system with taro, sugarcane, bananas, pigs, and chickens. The Europeans brought fatal diseases that drastically decreased the native population and soon sugarcane and pineapple plantations, as well as cattle ranches, overtook the islands, resulting in the reduction of Hawaii’s locally grown food percentage to 37. Today, Hawaii only produces a small portion of its food, and imports the rest, including taro – a once famous and staple crop of the islands.

Taro Farms

Because Hawaii is composed of a chain of islands, some of which have up to 14 different climates, it is difficult to use a lot of the land for agriculture. Due to active volcanoes and land-owning companies that are not interested in agricultural expansion, much of the land currently does not support farming. Hawaii’s position as a tourist destination also factors into its lack of agriculture. Furthermore, lands and resources, such as people to work and sources of energy such as petroleum, that are relatively cheap on the U.S. mainland, are significantly more expensive in Hawaii. This causes fewer and fewer people to support the agricultural industry.

In the search for alternative energy sources that do not require imports, attempts in recent years to expand the use of solar and wind have been made. However, there is not yet enough power or energy to easily support a large sustainable agricultural farm compared to the U.S. mainland, resulting in the importation of the vast majority of fuel.

Hawaii’s problem with energy serves as an opportunity to focus more on renewable energy sources such as solar power, wind power or hydro power. Utilizing the native volcanoes for geothermal energy could also be a possibility, despite its dangers.

The call for locally grown products in Hawaii is on the rise, however. A supermarket chain named Foodland, for example, attempts to exhaust all local markets first before importing food from the mainland and has successfully implemented a “Eat Local Tuesday” campaign with 200,000 people. Although Hawaii will never be completely self-sufficient, as it is part of a larger trade system, the chain of islands is on its way to becoming a place with a healthy balance of locally grown foods and imported ones.

For more information, go to: http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/06/29/hawaii-local-food .

Written by: Jae Won Oh, Connor Mulvey, Victoria Coll

What’s Up With Wind Turbines?

What’s up with wind turbines? 

A Wind turbine is something that uses the power of wind (kinetic energy) to turn a gearbox (mechanical energy) which can be used to generate electricity via generator (wind, or in the case of windmills, it is used to move machinery directly.)

History of the Wind Turbine


The oldest known wind turbine was the Persian windmill, developed around  1000 B.C, it was a windmill that turned a grindstone using 4 sails, half of which are blocked, the remaining sails use drag from the wind to move downwind, causing the windmill to turn.

Modern Day commercial turbines have one thing in common, the use of a wind to turn a gearbox which powers a generator, however there are two prominent kinds of turbines, vertical axis and horizontal axis.

Vertical axis.


Vertical axis involves a turbine whose blades rotate on an axis that is perpendicular to the ground. These wind turbines are the oldest, with the Persian windmill being a vertical axis, and many other iterations of the design have persisted throughout the centuries. However, despite new designs such as the Darrieus Wind Turbine, vertical axis turbines suffer lower wind speeds and are not as good at capturing energy as their horizontal counterparts, but they are lower in cost.  

Horizontal axis

wind-turbine_2780121bIn horizontal axis wind turbines, the axis of blade rotation is parallel to the ground. These turbines are extremely efficient, and can be found across the nation. Typically, there are two types of horizontal axis turbines: upwind and downwind.

Upwind, Downwind

Upwind turbines are driven by motors to follow the direction of the wind. Smaller turbines use a tail vane to steer the turbine in the direction of wind flow.


However, downwind turbines naturally track air flow without a motor. This simpler design of wind turbine can be used in combination with upwind turbines to create farms of turbines.


So, if you think wind turbines are irrelevant, think again! Depending on your area, wind power can be your hidden treasure. If you live by the sea, mountains, or rolling plains, chances are you do have said winds. Across the world, there are so many places which cannot host life for farming, but can be used for other purposes like solar panels and wind turbines. Wind turbines can be utilized as a sustainable energy source across America and beyond. It’s time to start seriously considered wind power as the energy source of the future.

Written by: Sophia Anne M., Tyler G.

Edible Vaccines are Taking a Bite Out of Diseases 


Scientist are currently developing a new cost-effective and easy to administer vaccination through genetically modified foods. These edible vaccines will aid in delivering lifesaving vaccines to developing countries where traditional medical care is not readily available.

Known more formally as “Biopharming”, these edible vaccines are created by introducing the desired gene into the DNA of select fruits and
vegetables. Scientists begin altering the plant’s genes as seeds allowing scientists to grow entire farms of edible vaccines. As the plant grows the cells produce whatever protein is needed for the chosen vaccine. Once the plant is ingested immunization begins, causing the body to produce the necessary antibodies to fight disease.


Though regulations and stipulations regarding the widespread application of biopharmed produce are still impeding upon high levels of extensive research, the field of biotechnology has continued to make significant strides in raising consumer awareness around the real world implications that accompany this technology, particularly in developing countries. The mortality rates in third world countries are largely dictated by deaths caused by vaccinated infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, neither of which are endemic in developed countries such as the United States. The implementation of biopharmed produce, if effectively grown and distributed, would dramatically cut the costs of disease prevention in countries like India, which spends approximately half of its total health budget on malaria control.

Scientists have found the best results in modifying the seeds of bananas, tobacco, and potatoes. Tobacco was found to be the most effective in terms of how the modified seeds grew and how it limited the amount of 22_07-edible_vaccinecontamination of other plants when being grown. Potatoes were also found to be effective but only if eaten raw. When scientists tested the efficiency of a cooked potato, they found that a lot of the proteins that were added through genetic modification had been destroyed. Although for most people, the banana has the most appeal because it is a very sweet and easy to eat fruit. Also, it can be transported easily and is extremely cheap to produce at ten cents a dose.

A video about bananas as a vessel for vital antibiotics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNqY_vMVPw0

Just as any emerging technology the transgenic plant vaccines went through a human trial run where 14 adults were given either 100 grams of a transgenic potato, 50 grams of transgenic potato, or 50 grams of a normal potato. Each of these potato samples contained a range of 3.7 to 15.7 g of LT-B. This is a protein that induces the inflammatory response in humans. These potatoes were eaten raw because if they are cooked the protein injected into them would leave the potato. After the test was done ten of the eleven people that ingested the transgenic potatoes developed immunoglobulin G (IgG), which is a type of antibody. This is produced during the immune response when LT-B is activated. This test opened a whole new path to delivering vaccines to people in a cheap and effective way.


Dr. Charles Arntzen

One of the newest developments in edible vaccinations came during the recent Ebola outbreak. With much of modern medicine, including the Ebola vaccination, being accessible only to the rich, scientists in the U.S wanted to find a vaccine for the developing world. Professor Charles Arntzen of Arizona State University believed that plants could be the answer. His team began researching and discovered that tobacco plants were ideal for housing the much needed Ebola vaccine, ZMapp. Like other edible vaccines, the desired antibodies are produced by fusing their genes to the genes of the tobacco plant. The tobacco is then injected with an artificial virus, stimulating antibody production. Though revolutionary in the fight against Ebola, the tobacco vaccine does have its complications. The outbreak required a large quantity of vaccinations which, with edible vaccines, is hard to develop in a short amount of time.

For now edible vaccines are still in development, but as time goes on and research continues they are becoming a viable option as an easy, inexpensive alternative to traditional vaccines.

Written by: Kelsey McGregor, Michelle Carter, Sarah Wilton, Phillip Hall

Drought Deadlock in California


California is experiencing a record breaking year in terms of its water sources; however, the supply is at a record low. California has now entered its fourth year of scorching heat and disappearing water. This devastating drought is resulting in the loss of jobs and farmland across the state of California. The citizens of California have begun to conserve water in an attempt to find a solution to this drought.

After one of California’s wettest centuries, the state enters dire straits as the drought drags on for a fourth year of record high temperatures and scant precipitation with many looking for answers as to why this may be 5happening. Aside from 2014 being California’s warmest for the past 119 years, farmers seek even more water as the scalding temperatures and lack of precipitation sap the moisture from their fields forcing them to scramble for more water. There is much debate regarding the cause of this drought, but many are pointing fingers to the world’s changing climate. Whatever rainfall the state needs, is being deflected by a high pressure pattern, a “resilient ridge”, which is blocking storms and pushing them to other regions such as Alaska. The state’s snow-pack accounts for nearly one third of the its supply, but due to the warmer conditions, the snow-pack is melting earlier and snow then turns into light rain causing the soil to dry out faster. The California state government has been blamed for not focusing on their water supply enough, but now they search hastily for sources to balance the water table before time runs out.

According to the United States Drought Monitor, more than 80% of the state is in extreme drought. This drought has caused many issues in the area and will continue to hurt the state as the problem continues. The lack of water means farmers dependent on water to farm are harmed, and are 4therefore losing money, almost $810 million while their fields lay vacant.  Agricultural jobs are being lost due to this inactivity. If these farmers attempt to grow crops, they pump water from the ground, which is also very expensive. For farmers that are successful in growing crops, the prices for their items have greatly increased because of the challenges of production.  California produces much of the country’s fruits and vegetables, thus the increase in their prices nationwide. Aside from the food industry, there are other major effects of the drought. The concerns of drilling to collect more water from the ground have increased in Central Valley because of the risk of land subsidence, the sinking of the ground (A video found at this link describes this phenomena further). With the weather getting hotter and drier, there is also increased risk of wildfires. The state and federal governments are sending immense amounts of money to aid the state. Additionally, the decline in surface water flow means that there will be more issues with hydropower production, navigation, and habitat for aquatic species.

However, many solutions have been proposed to resolve California’s ever-shrinking supply of water. The most prevalent of them is using drills to dig wells for groundwater. This has been used in California for decades and is 8often used by farmers to keep crops growing during dry seasons. However, the increased use of wells is depleting aquifers of water before they can be replenished. This damages the ecosystem, so, ironically, this makes water a somewhat, nonrenewable resource. This also causes rapid subsidence in the land above groundwater, which can damage infrastructure and increase flood risk (See this video from ABC News). Additionally, a billion dollar desalination plant in San Diego will provide safe water for 300,000 people. Despite consuming lots of energy and releasing waste products such as carbon dioxide and brine, Australia used desalination plants and their drought was ended. However, the UAE has developed solar desalination plants that would be cheaper and greener. Companies in California have developed similar systems. Another way to decrease our water usage is to grow different types of crops. Nearly half of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed in the US are grown in California. By changing our diet to plants that can better grow with less water, we may be able to more efficiently produce food.

As California’s drought continues to cause problems in its fourth year, California jobs and farmland as well as the rest of America are feeling the effects. This catastrophe is not man-made; however, we can aid in resolving the water crisis by doing our part. We can help by changing our habits and wasting less water. California’s landscape depends on the choices we make as a nation.

Written by: Noelle Greenwood, Nick Ges, Owen Baylosis,and Kayla Blatman

Can Farmers Keep Up with the Increasing Population?


It is estimated that only 1 in 6 farmers are under the age of 35. The average age of a working farmer is estimated to be 59.5 years old. The majority of these farmers are people who have grown up on farms and have experienced the changing economy. The farmer’s position has been declining in status because many people have no interest in this field. This may be because of the higher paying jobs that are offered. With these higher paying jobs, workers have little incentive to go into this field. And while America currently is able to provide food for its people, in the near future, there will be massive food shortages as a result of the retirement of the older farmers and the lack of fresh, young workers. If more new farmers are not introduced to this field there will be a significant shortage of food. In approximately in 35 years the population will be much larger and if this issue is not resolved, there will be starvation throughout the United States of America.

However, there is a possibility that new technologies will emerge that will increase agricultural production immensely such as “smart farming” or the reliance on machines to assist in production. Additionally, the government could help new agricultural producers get started, as this is a difficult task to complete.  For example, the government could lower taxes on new farm land for farmers who are just starting out, because the high cost may deter potential farmers from the beginning of their involvement in this industry. In fact, the government has created programs like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) already. This program trains and educates young farmers and ranchers to be successful in the field of agriculture. The goal of the program is to “enhance food security by providing beginning farmer and rancher producers and their families in the U.S. with the knowledge, skills and tools needed to make informed decisions for their operations, and enhance their sustainability.” Also, the government offers grants to help start up young farmers because this job is essential for our country’s success.


Another solution is to simply introduce the younger generation to farming. It may be that they just do not have proper exposure to the benefits of agriculture. With summer programs and classes related to agriculture, this will be more likely. For instance, schools should offer classes pertaining to this field like farming technology, to interest students to pursing this job career. Summer programs like the Governor’s School of Agriculture at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University can also introduce this field to our youth in America. Residents of the United States of America are encouraged to help come up with ways to establish a connection between the children of America and agriculture. If any of our readers are able to think of ways to do this, please leave a comment below.

Remember to check weekly for updates on this or related issues.  We look forward to your feedback!!

Written by: Lily Buysse, Sarah Acolatse