Holistic Management: Genius or Misguided

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Relevance

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.