Regenerative Movement Emerging in Uruguayan Pampas


A grasslands and livestock heaven, the Pampas of Argentina and Uruguay have always been a key economic driver of these countries. With this invaluable gift of nature comes a culture of deep connection to and knowledge of the land and its plants and animals, as well as unmatched land and livestock management skills of gauchos, landowners, and scientists.

But these incredible assets, both ecological and social, and their importance to the economy of these countries are being put at risk by the same trend of industrial monocrop agriculture, land conversion, and feedlots that the US has experienced for the past decades.

Pampas of Uruguay

It would be wise for this region to stop following the US trend of chasing short term profits (based mainly on the liquidation of ecological capital), and instead turn around and lead the regenerative movement.

This is exactly what Pablo Borelli, at the helm of the Argentine Hub, Ovis 21, and an Accredited Professional with the Savory Institute, as well as Savory Champions in Uruguay, Althea Ganly, Patricia Cook, and Gary Richards are doing. With them, a crowd of young farmers, biologists, and urban food and climate activists are mobilizing the regenerative journey to keep the Pampas from jumping on the tragic path of biodiversity loss, water scarcity and pollution, and soil degradation.

Daniela Ibarra-Howell, CEO of Savory Institute, is an Argentine agronomist who dedicated the early part of her profession to addressing the problems of desertification in her native country’s brittle regions. Daniela and her husband, Jim Howell, led educational ranch tours for many years, learning and sharing experiences with many regenerative livestock producers around the world. Argentina was one of their favorite destinations for the amount of traditional and scientific knowledge still alive, which happens to inform much of the global regenerative movement today. Going back to the Pampas region is always exhilarating and inspiring to Daniela.

This month, Daniela spent a few days in the region, meeting with the movers and shakers in Uruguay. Rancher and Savory partner, Mimi Hillenbrand, who owns and manages 777 Bison Ranch in South Dakota and 45 South (named after its latitudinal location), a beef and sheep operation in Chilean Patagonia, accompanied her. Hosted by Savory Champion, Althea Ganly and her husband at their ranch, they participated in an inspiring gathering of aligned individuals committed to ensuring a sustainable path for the agricultural sector in the country. Among those attending were producers, entrepreneurs, and biologists, as well as leaders of businesses, NGOs and government groups

Althea Ganly at her farm “Bordoneo”

Conversation and networking in Uruguay

Voisin’s rational grazing (PRV in Spanish) is well known in Uruguay, and many producers are faithful in following these principles, keeping soils from being plowed, managing time and timing of grazing to maximize photosynthesis and allowing for appropriate and context specific recovery periods, and typically using higher than conventional stock densities among others. The outcome is increased production, resilience, soil organic matter and water infiltration and retention, and overall health. It is hence understandable how readily Uruguayans accepted Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG) when first introduced in the region. (Read the great blog article on HPG and its key differentiators, by Jefferson Center for Holistic Management (Savory Hub in California, USA)  

Holistic Management was strongly introduced in Uruguay in late 2016, after the World Meat Congress in Punta del Este where Allan Savory was a keynote. Althea, Patricia and other key folks joined the Savory network of Champions and Pablo Borelli (Ovis 21 – Argentina Hub) began training in the region. In just over a year, several training sessions have taken place and many producers have begun the journey. With this training, a new depth of understanding has emerged. The need for a holistic context to guide actions, the importance of disciplined and dynamic planning and monitoring (to adjust and re-plan as needed in the always complex and changing conditions of nature, weather, markets, policies, personal circumstances, etc.), and skillful implementation of plans has been established.

“At the end of the day we are not just managing livestock, we are managing ecosystem processes, we are healing ecosystem function, we are addressing our water crisis, we are protecting and enabling new opportunities for the next generations, we are ensuring healthy food for all, we are fighting climate change, we are keeping Uruguay green and regenerative”–these are just some of the statements we heard during the gathering.

The potential of holistic planned grazing for soil carbon sequestration is, of course, not foreign to this group. They are incredibly curious and knowledgeable about soil health. Savory’s EOV (Ecological Outcome Verification) was discussed as well as the clear interest in outcome based claims and differentiation rather than positioning specific land management practices or using theoretical models for projecting impact.

Mimi Hillenbrand shared the great changes in species composition, productivity, and soil health that have come with managing holistically for over three decades on her bison ranch in South Dakota, as well as the soil carbon monitoring work she has implemented on the ranch in the past year. Her data will inform the emergent relevant science linking grasslands management and climate mitigation. Chile is next!

Happy cows on Mimi Hillenbrand’s holistically managed ranch in Chile.

Other fantastic initiatives that could work in unison with the work of this ag community is the planned establishment of a culinary school led by renowned chef, Francis Mallmann, in the nearby town of Garzon, striving to inspire and equip chefs from around the world to engage their followers in the full experience of growing, harvesting, cooking (Francis’ unique way) and eating food. The Savory Network and the Land to Market program were informally presented to the group as a way to add value, depth, and meaning to the initiative, and will continue to be explored.

Some incredibly enthusiastic and competent young people are ready to be welcomed into the Savory Accredited Professional network. They have already commenced projects to practice, learn, demonstrate, measure, study and publish the impact of Holistic Management in the Pampas of Uruguay.

Thank you Savory Champions, for bringing together the amazing people in your network for an inspiring time of sharing and reflection on the future of the regenerative movement in Uruguay!

*Header image from left to right:  Althea Ganly, Daniela Ibarra-Howell, Mimi Hillenbrand, Patricia Cook



Savory Institute

Savory Institute

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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