Holistic Management in a Communal Context

For more than a decade, Savory Institute and our Zimbabwe Hub, the Africa Centre for Holistic Management, have been at work on the development of a curriculum for communal farmers/pastoralists – those who manage their land in common.

It has been used to train hundreds of communal trainers in Africa to in turn train communities in Holistic Management. Over that time, we have modified the materials a great deal as we’ve learned in practice what does and doesn’t work. In the last two years, we’ve worked to make them more easily adaptable to multiple contexts.

We currently have 12 educators accredited in our communal curriculum, all but one based in Africa, and we hope to add more in the next year so that we continually add to this ever-growing knowledge base.

A core group planning meeting

The Communal Context

Our communal curriculum was designed to meet the unique needs of communities since they often operate with the following conditions, which differ significantly from the typical commercial farmer: 

  • Communities do not own the land they live on and manage. Rather, it is held in common and usually owned by the state. Communities may or may not have a tradition of cooperation and collaboration in managing their land and animals, and it is critical that they develop these skills. (The training materials and planning procedures focus on this aspect.)
  • Communities farm crops as well as livestock (agro-pastoralism) and tend to produce at a level sufficient only for their own consumption (subsistence) rather than producing a surplus for commercial trade.
  • Livestock are herded on foot, which requires more herders than if communities make use of herding dogs and horses, and requires mastery of low-stress herding and handling skills.
  • Communities are located in brittle environments where lack of water is a defining issue, bare ground is abundant, and droughts – both pastoral (human-caused) and natural – are becoming increasingly frequent.
  • Livestock are placed in an enclosure at night for protection from predators or thieves. Ideally, this enclosure (called a kraal or a boma) is movable so that it can be used to create “animal impact” where it is needed—such as on cropfields and on bare ground in grazing areas.
  • No fencing is used to demarcate paddocks. This enables us to simplify the grazing planning.

Note: This is not the reality everywhere, so we’ve designed the materials to make it easier to adapt to other situations by focusing on core principles. The Facilitator planning guides in the communal curriculum include more info from the standard/commercial curriculum, which the educator can decide to incorporate as the community is ready (in some cases, that applies on day one.)

About the Curriculum

We’ve named the communal curriculum Holistic Land and Livestock Management (HLLM) to distinguish it from the standard curriculum and because it is a name that resonates with the funders, NGOs, and governments who sponsor HLLM programs.

Because the curriculum is designed for facilitators/trainers who will be in turn training others, the training materials are divided into two parts:

  1. Management Guides for community members, which include the core content; and
  2. Facilitator Planning Guides that help facilitators plan how they will teach each of the core topics, or modules.
Sample management guide and facilitator’s planning guide

In many cases, trainees will have low literacy or low fluency in the language being used by the facilitator. So, we have developed “picture cards” that illustrate core principles and include instructions on how to both use them and develop new ones. Also, methods for checking knowledge acquisition and retention include simple written questionnaires that can also be presented orally and responded to in a way that doesn’t identify the participant as illiterate or non-fluent.

The picture card manual and two picture cards depicting overgrazing and proper grazing.

Mobilization is key. Whole communities have to participate and make decisions together, and that often requires additional training in organizing and governance. The HLLM materials provide guidelines for how to form a core group, how to create and monitor a community action plan, and what agreements may be needed to implement a community-wide program.

How the Communal Content Differs from the Standard/Commercial

We’ve adapted the standard training modules to the needs of the communal context, and altered some of the names slightly to reflect some of the changes. They are listed below with notes on how they differ from the commercial modules. Several optional modules are listed at the end.


  • Using Ecoliteracy: The focus is on the water cycle and using livestock to help cover bare ground to improve the water cycle.
  • Holistic Decision Making for Communities:    
    • Whole under managementThis is done at the start of a program and initially by those bringing in the program. It is later added to and revised by the community.
    • Holistic contextWe use a simple exercise that illustrates the need for a holistic context and how to arrive at one. The community starts by developing a “problem tree,” which we then adapt to a “solution tree,” which then becomes a holistic context and community action plan.
    • Context checks: We start with five checks, using simplified language:
      • Will this action fix the root cause of the problem (such as unhealthy land, lack of water, and so on?)
      • Will this action help or harm our land, water, and other natural resources?
      • Will this action help or harm our relationships with others?
      • Will this action help or harm our livelihoods?
      • How do we feel about this action now?
  • Holistic Financial Planning for Community Businesses: We’ve simplified the procedure and geared it to communities emerging from a subsistence economy to a more robust one with commercial enterprises. This module is often taught last, or only once a community-managed commercial enterprise has been established. We add two more context checks (simplified from the original):
    • The Profit Check: Which projects, or enterprises, produce the most income for the least cost?
    • The Weak Link Check: What is the Weak Link in the production chain for each project or enterprise? 
Using the Solution Tree to develop the community’s Holistic Context


  • Land & Social Planning for Grazing: We assume the whole community and the land allocated to it is one grazing unit and divide it up into 5 to 10 virtual paddocks. More than that are not needed because people will herd bunched animals through smaller areas within them, similar to strip grazing within a paddock. Then we plan how a large herd can be watered adequately each day and protected at night from predators and thieves. And most critically, we identify the agreements that need to be in place for the management of the grazing and herding and provide guidelines on how to select and organize herders.
  • Holistic Planned Grazing: Because no fencing is used to demarcate paddocks, we can simplify the grazing planning. (For those already familiar with Holistic Planned Grazing, the paddocks become virtually unlimited because herders keep the animals bunched and moving within them; you can use a single recovery period and avoid having to plan minimum and maximum grazing periods, which keeps the math much simpler). If communities do in fact use fencing and there are fewer than 100 paddocks, we recommend they use the standard aide memoire.
  • Herding to the Holistic Grazing Plan: This module is used to train herding teams in how to implement the grazing plan using low-stress herding and handling techniques. The herders are responsible for the day-to-day decisions about where within a paddock to move the animals, how to get them to water, how to get them back to their nighttime location, and where and when (based on the plan) to produce herd effect to trample down old, grey grass, or the steep sides of gullies, and so on.
  • Monitoring the Land:  A much-simplified process that a community group can use to observe the changes that have occurred at the soil surface, whether those changes are in line with the future landscape they described, and how their management may need to change.


  • Improving Cropland Soils – Improving cropland soils and productivity using animal impact and conservation agriculture practices
  • Herd Management – basic livestock husbandry
  • Construction & Maintenance Guides for movable nighttime enclosures and for inexpensive and durable tanks and troughs
  • Learning and Facilitation – Understanding how adults learn, so you can become a better facilitator and design meaningful learning experiences that help embed the new knowledge in the community.
  • Community Mobilization – How to use the “community action cycle” to assist agropastoral communities in managing their implementation of Holistic Management. (This manual will be replaced with one describing a simpler process that is geared to bringing subsistence communities into the commercial sector to increase economic resilience and provide incentives for increased land and livestock production.)

Want to Know More?

We currently offer training in the HLLM communal curriculum only at the Africa Centre in Zimbabwe, which also serves as one of the two Savory Institute international campuses, but that will change in the near future. Online training may be developed within the next couple of years as well. In the meantime, you can check with the Africa Centre for a training schedule at [email protected]. For more information on the Africa Centre and the campus, visit africacentreforholisticmanagement.org

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The Savory Institute is on a mission to regenerate the grasslands of the world and the livelihoods of their inhabitants, through Holistic Management. Since 2009, Savory Institute has been leading the regenerative agriculture movement by equipping farmers, ranchers, and pastoralist communities to regenerate land within culturally-relevant and ecologically-appropriate contexts.

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