World Brahman Congress – Paraguay

Transcript of Allan Savory's Keynote Speech at the World Brahman Congress in Paraguay, July 2022
Brahman cattle

Thank you for this opportunity to talk at your congress.

As all of you know your breed traces its ancestry back thousands of years to ancient Indian civilization. A time I believe when my ancestors were members of savage tribes using stone age tools and the English language did not exist. 

I have enjoyed the pleasure of working with brahmans in Africa, America, India, Pakistan and Paraguay over many years. 

Long ago I learned the value your breeders place on their bulls when I was invited to judge the best brahman bull in Baluchistan and after selecting the champion from the parade of magnificent bulls my wife and I were entertained by the local dignitaries. While discussing the champion bull with his owner I offered to trade for my wife. He just laughed this was not a fair trade at all  – his bull was obviously more valuable than my wife!

I note that some of your Asian brahman organizations place a greater value on brahman cattle than providing good beef. They also acknowledge deeper social, cultural and spiritual values. 

Today I want to talk about an even greater value of your cattle. Far greater than the production of beef. I want to talk about the true value of cattle to address climate change, which threatens the future of city-based civilization including all businesses and economies. 

If we place any value on our cities, all businesses, and economies then a scientifically well-informed society would be investing trillions of dollars in cattle management now, and certainly considerably more than is being invested in defense and space exploration. 

This true value we began to establish with Brahman cattle in Zimbabwe in the late 1960’s on the large Liebigs ranch running 60,000 brahmans. This work we followed up in Paraguay about ten years later.

You are all aware of the global problem of climate change. And I assume you are aware that biodiversity loss, desertification, mega-fires and climate change are feeding on each other and spiraling out of control.

It is unfortunate that the word desertification is used to describe biodiversity loss in seasonal rainfall environments where desert is the end result.

Although the desertifying environments cover two thirds of our planet’s land, environment degradation due to biodiversity loss extends to Europe and tropical humid forests that do not turn to desert.

From now on if I refer to climate change for ease I will always mean biodiversity loss, environmental degradation, mega-fires and climate change which are inseparable.

In today’s short attention span, mass media, urban world what do most people blame for causing climate change?   

The vast majority – many billions of people – including those in our most prestigious universities, environmental organizations and international agencies blame cattle, oil, and coal as the three main things causing climate change. 

Not only is this the mantra of WWF, IUCN and other major environmental organizations and mainstream media, but also now of billionaires and film star celebrities, like fish in a feeding frenzy, promoting and investing in chemically manufactured meat and even vegan leather. 

Normally we rely upon reputable organizations like the National Geographic Society for reliable scientific information. Recently I saw how they explain the role of cattle. They wrote: “Cattle release nitrogen dioxide and methane while also compacting soil, which prevents it from storing carbon and methane.”

While preparing this talk I researched your Brahman World Congress to see how you are dealing with such a perfect storm of condemnation of your cattle. I learned that the purpose of your Congress is:

  • To preserve, improve and enhance the status of the Brahman breed around the world.
  • To foster better relations between member associations.
  • To promote the Brahman breed and its use in all areas of the world.
  • To provide a forum for establishing host countries for future World Brahman Congresses.
  • To exchange scientific and technical information among all members.

Frankly you are preaching to your own choir. I could not find a single word about how your World Congress, and member organizations, are in any way responding to your critics. 

As I am going to explain, the main concern of your critics mounting this perfect storm is climate change caused by your cattle. This belief persists despite the fact that not a single scientist knows how to break the cycle of desertification, mega-fires and climate change without cattle. 

I believe your congress needs to be better informed first, and then to inform your members and the world choir why it is that, even if we stop all use of fossil fuels totally, climate change will continue.

It will continue because of biodiversity loss and desertification over most of the world’s land and the need to sequester excessive greenhouse gasses in the world’s soils and oceans. America, which boasts about its agriculture, exports a greater tonnage of dead eroding soil than all other agricultural products combined every year. 

Desertification, the point at which the deadly cycle can be disrupted, can only be reversed biologically using cattle (and other herbivores). Being a biological problem it can never be reversed by investing hundreds of trillions of dollars in any technology imaginable. The belief prevailing at endless climate conferences that desertification, and thus climate change, can be addressed using technology in some form is just that – a belief – not supported by any known science. 

Unfortunately, the discovery over sixty years ago that cattle are essential to reverse desertification has not been considered the exciting new discovery it is by our governing institutions. This is because the world’s authorities believe for certain that cattle cause climate change. Such proof by authority can hold up science for centuries as we know from the days of Copernicus. 

Science must replace this belief or the future will be one of greater violence and suffering than ever known or imaginable as we continue to destroy our life-supporting environment and people abandon failing cities and businesses.

I was not invited to give doomsday talk so let me get into the exciting stuff… 

Blaming cattle, sheep and goats started thousands of years ago when the first cities began failing in the Fertile Crescent. This we learn from ancient texts blaming the nomads and their animals for causing the deserts that overwhelmed their cities. 

Just as we once believed the world was flat, humans have always believed that if land is being damaged by animals, it is because there are too many animals. So ancient and deep is this belief that it assumed scientific validity and was grandfathered into science as proven fact.

Thousands of PhD dissertations and peer-reviewed papers are based on this belief that too many animals results in overgrazing and desertification. It is also the belief of your own members. 

The good news I mentioned earlier is that 65 years ago we discovered that science did not support this belief. This discovery, subsequently spread by individual ranchers, scientists and pastoralists was, and still is, ridiculed by authorities, including cattlemen’s organizations. One of the first actions of universities and governments was to ban me from setting foot on any university campus for over twenty years in southern Africa for such heresy. 

This vital discovery for humanity is still being treated as heresy by most institutions just like the discoveries of Galileo and Copernicus when we believed that our world was flat and the centre of the universe.

In a 2013 TED Talk viewed by over 8 million people, I explained in simple lay terms why we have no option but to use cattle (and other livestock) to break the cycle of biodiversity loss, desertification and climate change. 

Only by using technology can we stop fossil fuels emitting greenhouse gases. However only livestock can stop man-made desertification adding further carbon, and reverse it to store carbon for millennia in the world’s desertifying grasslands and savannas.

As I stressed earlier even replacing fossil fuels 100% using technology will not stop climate change, because only cattle and other large grazing animals can do that.

For many years many scientists denied humans were causing climate change – now almost all scientists acknowledge that we are causing it. This acknowledgement is profound because science is logical and it therefore means scientist now acknowledge climate change is not being caused by cattle, oil or coal. 

Cattle, oil, coal, soil and water are all resources. We cannot even imagine how soil or water could cause climate change. So too is it equally unimaginable how cattle, coal or oil can do so. 

Science, as opposed to belief, informs us that only the way we manage cattle oil and coal – or soil and water – can lead to climate change. Not these resources but how we manage them is the cause. I don’t believe any scientist in the world can continue to argue that our resources cause climate change. 

Above all else science is logical and thus your brahman cattle are absolved by the jury of science, but you and your management are found guilty. 

The way in which almost all brahman breeders manage cattle today, and have managed them over thousands of years, causes biodiversity loss and desertification – which renders the land unable to sequester carbon. Note it is not your cattle, but the way in which you manage them that causes the problem. 

By coincidence, and not any wisdom, this is the same management that I became concerned with, and began studying, so long ago, when as a young scientist, I saw future national parks losing biodiversity that I could only attribute to our professional management by myself and my scientific colleagues. 

Your management causing desertification is no different from the management of your strongest environmental or vegan critics. Why would I say something so radical?

My home in Africa is surrounded by over 30 National Parks in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia – all are losing biodiversity and some are our worst cases of shocking biodiversity loss contributing to desertification and climate change. 

I lived in New Mexico for forty years and found the same in national parks there – even the Aldo Leopold Memorial Forest along the Rio Grande river is today losing biodiversity and desertifying. 

In these parks there are no cattle to blame. No world authority or scientist still believing cattle, coal and oil cause climate change can blame cattle, oil, coal, poaching, corporate malpractice, corruption, greed, ignorance, illiteracy or lack of experts. The management in these parks is supported by the world’s universities, governments, billionaires, celebrities, vegans and large environmental organizations staffed by people with the highest academic credentials. They are in effect managed by your critics.

Faced with such evidence your congress will do a disservice to your member organizations, your breed and your families and businesses and humanity by being defensive or remaining silent. 

We are not still in the medieval ages when the power of church and state would ensure you were burned at the stake for pointing out the emperor has no clothes.

I believe you owe it to your breed and humanity to not be defensive when national parks are in worse condition than most ranches in the desertifying regions of the world – the main environments in which your brahman breed dominates.

Frankly it is time for all of us to stop blaming, arguing, being defensive or silent as we have done through 26 climate conferences. It is time to acknowledge that we need to collaborate instead.

We either address the cause together as team humanity to offer hope for future generations, or we continue as we are and face a future of suffering and violence beyond imagination.

Management on the large scale needed to address the cause of climate change has to be done mainly through governments, and other institutions, that do so by developing policies from which flow laws, regulations, taxation and financing. 

It also involves management and especially policy development by all of us including Braham breeders and WWF, IUCN, TNC, Sierra Club, Audubon and other environmental organizations as well as governments, and the economists at Davos managing global finance driving environmental destruction.

Earlier I mentioned my first beginning to question our professional management in 1950s when I was working for the British colonial office as a young researcher. By the 1970s I had discovered part of the reason – we lacked a tool that could address desertification. 

As humans using all the money, labour and creativity in the world we cannot even make furniture from a tree – until we use a tool be it axe or saw. 

We cannot even drink milk without a tool – bucket, mug or cup – unless we go to a cow and suck using hands and mouth. 

In the 1960s I realized humans have only had two tools  – fire and technology in some form from stone age to modern technology. From this we discovered that using fire and technology we could never prevent biodiversity loss, desertification and climate change in seasonal rainfall environments – about two thirds of the Earth’s land surface.

That realization, combined with the biodiversity loss we were seeing in national parks was to lead to the discovery that we had no option but to use cattle as tools that coincidentally also produce food. 

Left no option but to use cattle, the next obstacle was how to do so, when every way humans had ever managed them over thousands of years had led to biodiversity loss and to desertification over most of the world. How could they be managed in a way that increased biodiversity in any environment and reversed desertification where rainfall is seasonal?  

The pioneering work on the role cattle had to play was conducted mainly with 60,000 brahman cattle on Liebigs ranch in Zimbabwe and later in the Chaco and Alto Parana here in Paraguay.

I have to make this brief so let me simply state that helped by many ranchers and over 2,000 fellow scientists, economists and others by 1983 we had discovered two flaws in management through all ages and cultures from managing our families to managing entire nations:

The first discovery was that which I have been talking about – that cattle are essential to reverse desertification and they are not the cause of it. Our management is.

And we established a way in which cattle could reverse desertification while producing even more meat, milk, etc. We did this by developing the Holistic Planned Grazing process. I simply copied the technique armies had learned over centuries to produce the best possible plan at any moment in the chaos of immediate battlefield situations, and adapted it to a grazing situation which can be equally chaotic and difficult. In over half a century we have not experienced a single failure using this process, which can be taught in a day.

The second and more profound discovery was that humans of all cultures and ages made management decisions universally in the same way. Like the first discovery this was heresy because it flew in the face of thousands of years of belief that humans made decisions in a great many different ways. 

I do not know most of you. However, I do know how you make all conscious management decisions in your life. You, like me, make every conscious decision to achieve some need, some desire or to address a problem. 

This universal way is extremely successful using technology as we do in every case to produce beef, grain, wine, cell phones, computers, art, music, bridges, planes and everything that supports civilization. However, what we produce, including beef or cell phones is not where the problem lies because these are all things we produce but do not manage. 

Remember scientists now acknowledge that management is the cause of climate change. So the problem lies with the things we manage. 

We manage human organizations, and economies and through them we manage Nature to produce beef, wine, grain, computers, music, pencils, toothbrushes and everything humans need and desire using fire and technology in many forms. 

Reducing the complexity of human institutions, economies, and our life-supporting environment (Nature), to the context of meeting our needs, desires and problems is what we call reductionist. And reductionist management leads to unintended consequences – culminating as we are seeing in mounting global tragedies and climate change, conflict and blaming. 

In short we discovered that not only must we include livestock in our tool box alongside Fire and Technology, but we have to develop an all-encompassing holistic context for management of humans, economy and environment –  which cannot be managed separate from one another.

This holistic context becomes the context for our actions. It ties the life we want to live to our life-supporting environment so that we meet our needs, desires and address our problems without losing sight of what is most important to us.

An example of this would be something like this:

We want stable families living peaceful lives in prosperity and physical security while free to pursue our own spiritual or religious beliefs. Adequate nutritious food and clean water. Enjoying good education and health in balanced lives with time for family, friends and community and leisure for cultural and other pursuits. All to be ensured, for thousands of years, on a foundation of regenerating soils and biologically diverse communities on Earth’s land and in her rivers, lakes and oceans. 

The reasons for our actions will always be to meet our needs, desires and address problems. However, such actions determined in a holistic context tying our lives to our life-supporting environment leads to profoundly different results. 

Different in that, even where there is great conflict, no management action is even discussed or judged until first there is total agreement and harmony on the holistic context for all management. 

Starting by developing a holistic context in harmony avoids today’s arguments, denial and blaming as well as the unintended consequences of today’s management. 

I am sure all of you can understand that more than anything today the world needs harmony and collaboration as we face escalating droughts, floods, violent weather, social and political breakdown and violence. 

Hope for the future rests on associations such as yours initiating and leading, working alongside and in harmony with the major environmental organizations, governments and international agencies developing policies holistically to address the cause of climate change.

Unless we address the cause logical science tells us that we have no hope of anything but a violent future.

I believe it would be fitting if your brahman associations, particularly in India and Pakistan where your members already recognize greater social and cultural value in your ancient breed, began to show the statesmanship and leadership required in such severely desertifying regions by starting to address desertification and thus climate change without even waiting for governments. 

Brahman organizations that encourage collaboration in place of conflict will require leaders with the moral courage to publicly acknowledge the degradation and loss of biodiversity in all environments due to the way cattle are managed – both on pastures and in feedlots. 

Currently cattlemen’s organizations, like environmental organizations, do not admit to their management causing land degradation on ranches and in national parks. 

And we find apologists for ancient pastoral cultures claiming they lived in harmony with their environment, despite desertification advancing from Baluchistan to the Serengeti under pastoral management over ten thousand years.

Leadership will also involve forcibly pointing out that only livestock can address desertification and thus climate change over vast regions of the world using the Holistic Planned Grazing process (or better when developed). 

The regions I’m talking about include the Western United States, Australia, all of North Africa and over to Pakistan and India, and up into China. In all of these places livestock are the only tool that can break the feedback cycle of biodiversity loss leading to desertification leading to climate change, leading to megafires, leading back to biodiversity loss and on and on.

Livestock, using the Holistic Planned Grazing process (or better) can break this destructive cycle. What cannot do it, even stopping fossil fuel use 100%, is using technology to plant trees or to move earth to harvest runoff rainfall, especially in regions receiving less than 300 mm of rainfall. 

These measures can neither reverse desertification, nor feed people in vast regions where 95% of the land can only feed people from animals, not crops.

Brahman congress leadership will also involve the statesmanship to publicly recognize that when governments develop policy in a national holistic context, agreed by all, it may be found in some situations that cattle have no place. This is likely in perennially humid tropical forests such Brazil’s Amazon basin.

This we learned in Paraguay nearly fifty years ago in the Alto Parana when tropical wet forest was being cleared for crop and livestock production. 

As wet tropical forest was cleared we experienced not only immediate biodiversity loss but severe frost and increased wind velocity close to the ground which became additional man-made problems we could not solve. Using science, in place of beliefs, the best we could do using cattle was to minimize the damage, which was no solution.

I stress that when your morally courageous leaders acknowledge that managing cattle as you do today needs to change, they must also note damage occurring in seasonal rainfall national parks supported by the world’s experts in national parks management. We are all literally in this ship together.

Where do you stand now?

As I see it, your world congress can carry on business as usual. Promote the brahman brand while contributing to biodiversity loss, desertification and climate change. This will fuel the feeding frenzy of critics as our ship sinks. 

Or you can begin to be better informed by investigating fully to learn what more is behind this short talk of mine and learning what it means to manage holistically.

The Savory Institute and its many hubs on six continents will I assure you assist you in every way they can including their programs such as Land to Market and Ecological Outcome Verification, providing scientifically rigorous documentation of reversing desertification and addressing climate change as only livestock can do.

I hope for all of humanity that you will do the right thing and courageously lead your many organizations into saving civilization as we know it. 

Even if the entire world became vegan, never ate another beef steak and leather made from coal and oil replaced that from cattle, climatologists and governments still could not address climate change without millions more cattle to do so. This I believe needs to be reflected in your leadership and your brand for the sake of all of us. 

The leadership the world is crying out for cannot come from vegans, environmentalists, celebrities, academics or politicians raised in cities but it can come from brahman breeders who have not lost touch with the land loving your breed and your land as you do.

I hope you will do the right thing and wish you luck in taking on the necessary humility and in initiating the collaboration so essential if your breed is to even be here a hundred years from now.

Allan Savory

Allan Savory

Allan is a lifelong ecologist and the creator and co-founder of Savory Institute. He originated Holistic management, a systems thinking approach to managing resources. His Holistic Management textbook, and Holistic Management Handbook have influenced thousands of ranchers and land stewards across the globe.
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