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Agriculture Takes Center Stage As COP22 Begins in Morocco

Author: Judith Schwartz November 7, 2016

COP21, the global climate conference in Paris last year, resulted in an agreement on cutting atmospheric carbon. Now, COP22, which starts today in Marrakech, Morocco, will focus on how the world will adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects, especially in developing countries. The meeting is expected to have a greater focus on agriculture, and specifically on Africa.

In Paris, agricultural solutions—notably soil’s role as a carbon sink—entered global climate discussions. The chief vehicle was the French-led 4-per-1,000 Initiative, a pledge to increase carbon stocks in agricultural soils by 0.4 percent a year, a rate that proponents said would stem the rise of atmospheric carbon. The objective, says the French Ministry of Agriculture, “is to show that agriculture is part of the solution. It aims to increase organic carbon storage in soils, with a goal of improving food security and mitigating and adapting to climate change.”

Four-per-1,000 has more than 170 signatories, including 32 countries. The U.S. has not publicly supported it, instead aligning with the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, which is more oriented toward industry and includes biotechnology as one approach.

A new initiative, Adaption of African Agriculture (AAA), would place agriculture at the heart of climate talks. At a September meeting, a coalition of 27 African nations adopted the “Marrakesh Declaration,” which calls attention to the continent’s vulnerability to climate irregularities—such as the drought that has left 30 million southern Africans food insecure—and the risks borne by smallholder farmers.

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The Fight Against Deforestation: Why Are Congolese Farmers Clearing Forest?

Author: KU Leuven , 2016

Only a small share of Congolese villagers is the driving force behind most of the deforestation. They’re not felling trees to feed their families, but to increase their quality of life. These findings are based on fieldwork by bioscience engineer Pieter Moonen from KU Leuven (University of Leuven), Belgium. They indicate that international programmes aiming to slow down tropical deforestation are not sufficiently taking local farmers into account.

Forests, and especially centuries-old primeval forests such as in the Congo Basin in Africa, are huge CO2 reservoirs. When trees are cut down, large amounts of greenhouse gases are released. This contributes to climate change — both regional and global.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is in the world’s top five in terms of amount of deforested land per year. According to the government, this is mostly due to subsistence farming and population growth. The argument is that small farmers grow crops to feed their own families. As there is a rise in population, farmers have to keep on clearing forest to increase the area under cultivation.

Bioscience engineer Pieter Moonen is preparing a PhD on land use and climate change in the DRC. He examined whether subsistence farming really is the main culprit for deforestation. For a year, he did fieldwork in 27 Congolese villages and questioned 270 households in a survey about agriculture and deforestation.

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Meet Abdellah Boudhira, Third-Generation Moroccan Farmer

Abdellah Boudhira, a third-generation farmer in Morocco, has experienced first-hand the downside of conventional farming. Boudhira watched his family farm suffer for decades under the false promises of higher yields, combined with the high costs of chemical inputs like synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides.

In 2012, Boudhira began his farm’s transition to regenerative agriculture in order to save his family farm. Restoring his land’s soil, rescuing local seed varieties and rebuilding a market for local organics in Morocco has been challenging, Boudhira said. But the decision was the right one, he said, after witnessing the damage expensive hybrid seeds and toxic chemicals had inflicted on his most precious resource—soil.

Agriculture is the backbone of Morocco’s economy. But Morocco’s farmers, like so many farmers in other parts of the world, are suffering from recurring drought. Still, according to a 2014 GRAIN report, small farmers like Boudhira are producing 70 percent of the world’s food on less than a quarter of all farmland. And they are producing this food despite the challenges of dwindling natural resources, increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather patterns and the economic impacts of rapidly expanding industrial farms that are crushing local food systems.

Regeneration International invited Boudhira to share his story on November 18, at an event we helped organize for the upcoming COP22 Climate Summit in Marrakesh. Read the interview we conducted with him to learn more about his farm, his transition to regenerative agriculture and his plans for the future.

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Interview with Abdellah Boudhira, October 20 , 2016

Regeneration International: Tell us about your story, how did you get involved in regenerative agriculture?

abdellah_morocco_farmerAbdellah Boudhira: I switched from conventional to regenerative agriculture for many reasons. As a small farmer who works my land by myself I needed to avoid and protect myself from chemicals, which I used to spray nearly four times a week. The second reason is because our land became exhausted from growing only tomatoes year after year. I’m a specialist in growing tomatoes and for more than 20 years my father only grew tomatoes in the same place and eventually our land became exhausted from it. Soil diseases like nematode and fusarium developed and affected the productivity of our tomatoes.

The third reason is to avoid debt to seed suppliers, chemical companies and synthetic fertilizer companies. If I kept working the same “conventional” way, I would always be indebted. The fourth reason is that I wanted to change the way I market my produce. I wanted to sell directly to families, directly to the “consumer,” so that I could benefit from the real advantages of growing organic food. I wanted to find and maintain customers who seek healthy food and care about what they eat. When farmers sell to wholesale markets, there are intermediaries who don’t care how the produce is grown in the field. They only care about the quantity and look of the produce. Their only goal is making money. There is no interaction between farmers and consumers. Farmers sell their produce at low prices while the consumer buys it at a high price because the same produce passed through the hands of three to four middlemen before it reaches the consumer.

RI: Hybrid seeds were introduced in your region in the 1980s, what impact have they had on farmers in your region?

AB: Before hybrid seeds were introduced to Moroccan farmers, farmers were saving their own seeds and traded them with each other. For example when we save seeds from heirloom tomatoes we give some to our neighbor farmers and they give us green beans, squash, carrots, onion seeds, so no one ever purchased seeds during that time. But when hybrid seeds came and some farmers purchased them, because of the high yield they gave and the uniform size and color and look they have, their popularity and demand increased. Eventually all farmers were growing hybrid seeds and lost the seeds that had been passed down to them by generations of farmers. Years later more hybrid seeds were invented to resist diseases as such TMV whitefly, fusarium, verticillium wilt and nematodes. These seeds were introduced here by some well known international seed companies as such Royal Sluis, Vilmorin, Deruiter Seed, Syngenta. This caused the price of seeds to rise and the price has kept rising, and now tomato seeds are more expensive than gold here in Morocco.

RI: Really, more expensive than gold?

AB: Yes 1kg of tomato hybrid seeds is expensive than 1kg of gold here in Morocco.

RI: What other challenges do you and other farmers in your region face?

AB: The first challenge is drought, desertification and big agriculture which have depleted the underground water table. In the early 1960s my father was pumping water from a well 8 meters deep and today we pump water from a well 120 meters deep. Secondly, due to climate change, the majority of the year the climate is now warm and dry, which creates the perfect environment for harmful insects to breed quickly. Tuta absoluta, whitefly and another virus that appeared this year called New Delhi which attacks cucurbitaceae are some examples.

The emergence of these pests has forced big farmers to grow crops that are susceptible to these viruses in isolated greenhouses. Small farmers simply cannot afford to build these types of greenhouses, so they’ve shifted to growing easy greens as such lettuce, beets. So small farmers have flooded the market with the same produce because they have no alternatives.

Another challenge is that the land is tired because farmers are not rotating their crops and they’re using harmful chemicals to kill soil diseases. Finally, both small and big farmers have such high debt, every year we hear that some farmer has to sell his property.

I am a farmer by choice. My soul gets inspired when I touch the soil and water and when I plant seeds and watch them grow.

RI: What tools are you using in response to these challenges and to build your farm’s resiliency in the face of climate change and extreme weather?

AB: I am a farmer by choice. My soul gets inspired when I touch the soil and water and when I plant seeds and watch them grow. Today it is more difficult to grow things than it was years ago. Since 1998 I’ve felt that there is something abnormal occurring in farming systems. Farming needs more care and attention and requires more planning than it used to.  In order to sustain myself as a farmer I had to change the way I farm and the way I market my produce. Now I grow different types of vegetables, herbs and greens in a rotational program. This builds soil fertility and protects against soil diseases. Growing biodiverse crops makes my farm more resilient in the face of extreme weather or pests. My farm was less resilient when we only grew one type of crop. For example wet weather can cause white powdery mildew on squash but not on onions, radishes, tomatoes and green beans.

I also make compost from my garden waste and aged manure and mix it in the soil to build fertility. I obtained heirloom seeds and now save my own seeds that I save for the next season. I don’t have to buy expensive hybrid seeds anymore.

I focus on controlling illness in plants when it first begins, because it’s easier to control than to treat. For pest control I use chili solution to burn cutworms as they hatch from the moth eggs, I spray ashes on cucurbitaceae leaves to reduce the development of white powdery mildew, I practice what is called intensive gardening so to get good quantity of food in a limited area of land. This also saves me land and reduces weeding. And for plants that need partial sunlight, I grow them beside tall plants to give them shade in the afternoon. This year I started to look for customers in the city of Agadir to buy my produce so I can keep improving my farming.

RI: What advice do you have to other farmers seeking to increase their farm’s resiliency?

AB: The best advice I have for farmers is to open their minds and be open to changing their practices. I shared my ideas with some young farmers here but I’ve found they’re afraid of new ideas. They’re stuck in their ways.

abdellahYou know, farmers are close to nature and in nature everything teaches you lessons, but unfortunately not everyone learns. A real farmer who loves his land and finds joy in working it, a farmer who creates life and food that nourishes both body and soul, a farmer whose heart is firm no matter what challenges they face, this farmer will find a way.

Farmland is farmer potential. A farmer should handle his/her land with care. Farmers should run away from anything which labeled wear a muzzle, gloves, or glass before using it. Farmers should stay away from banks that offer to provide loans. Farmers should practice rotational growing. Farmers should revise their marketing strategy to create a better and honorable ways to market their produce.

RI: Tell us about your vision for the future of your farm?

AB: My vision for the future of my farm has great promise. I am very pleased with the results I have achieved after many years of hard work, but what looks unclear to me is the future of our farm because our land is shared between our relatives. I farm on my father’s share of land. The neighboring land I rent will expire in 2018. I don’t know if my landlord will extend it… Anyways let’s be optimists. A farmer should always be an optimist or he won’t be a farmer anymore.

RI: The Lima Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) states “agriculture is a key sector to achieve both food security and the 2 degree target,” how do you feel Morocco fits into this context?

14875250_1422664627761161_2103620316_nAB: Without a doubt agriculture is the key to achieving food security, but we must practice an agriculture that regenerates natural resources, water and soil fertility.

In Morocco there are only two regions that feed the entire country. These two regions even supply Europe, Russia, USA, Canada and China with citrus and other vegetables. Due to the compaction of the soil by big agriculture in these regions,, water tables have depleted by almost in half of one region. Here, where I live, soils are also degrading. Without heavy use of synthetic fertilizers, farmers can’t get the yields they need in order to keep up with growing input costs.

There is an abundance of water and lush land in the north of the country but people there made the choice decades ago to immigrate to Europe and to the big cities in Morocco instead of working on the land. Now it is hard to convince young people there to become farmers. Farming is not an easy job especially if you are small farmer.

RI: How can consumers help to support the growth of regenerative agriculture in North Africa?

AB: In order to encourage farmers to grow healthy food in a regenerative way, consumers must buy products from farmers at a price that will allow them to farm that way. Local farmers need that support so they can keep their land and keep working their land instead of selling it to move to overcrowded cities.

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Contact Abdellah:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AbdellahFarmer
Email: green_moroccan@yahoo.fr
Location: Agadir, Morocco

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Alexandra Groome is Campaign & Events Coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

Griffin Klement is the Organic Consumers Association Latin American Project Director.

Can Agroecology Feed the World and Save the Planet?

Author:Henrietta Moore | Published on: October 9, 2016

You wouldn’t necessarily know it, but right now Africa is facing a food crisis. With Brexit, global terror attacks, the war in Syria and the seemingly endless string of sporting fixtures vying for our collective attention in 2016 so far, the fact that up to 50 million people across east and Southern Africaare at risk of hunger seems to have largely escaped mention.

The continent has been wracked by drought following one of the strongest ever El Niños. And while a natural phenomenon is the immediate cause, however, Africa’s food security has been undermined over recent decades by the rise of monocropping – the planting of single-crop tracts across vast swathes of scarce arable land.

Starting in the 1960s, the “green revolution” saw industrial farming practices transplanted to poorer nations. In the second half of the 20th century, its success seemed unassailable: the global harvest of maize, wheat and rice trebled from 640 million tonnes in 1961 to almost 1.8 billion tonnes by 2000.

Africa, in particular, embraced new maize varieties with alacrity. Corn now covers up to 70% of some African nations’ farmland and accounts for about 50% of calories consumed by humans.

But the enormous cost to the land and people is now becoming clear. A recent report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) summed up the problem bluntly, stating: Past agricultural performance is not indicative of future returns”.

The meticulously-researched document concludes that the green revolution’s “quantum leap” in cereal production has come at the price of soil degradation, salinisation of irrigated areas, over-extraction of groundwater and the build-up of pest resistance. Add climate change into the mix and you have a recipe for disaster. While Africa’s population is set to double to 2.4 billion by 2050, the FAO warns that maize yields could fall by nearly 20% over that period.

The problem is affecting not just quantity, but quality. Lack of rotation and over-use of phosphates and nitrates has degraded the nutrient content of the soil, leaving 2 billion people globally suffering micronutrient malnutrition, many in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Urban Farming, Africa Style

Author: Richard Farrell | Published on: September 7, 2016

When I was in junior school in Cape Town in the late fifties / early sixties, ‘grand apartheid’ had not yet kicked in. While schools and buses already had racial segregation, we lived in an integrated suburb comprising different cultures some of whom set their gardens aside for agriculture.

The government’s final solution included separating the races, and passing stricter urban planning rules. These prohibited all forms of business on residential plots, including keeping livestock and agriculture. We emerged as a free country in 1994. Ten years later, the Tshwane University of Technology Centre for Organic and Smallholder Agriculture reported that 48% of the people still lived below the breadline.

Many of these have abandoned their traditional homes in the hinterland, and trekked to South African metropolitan municipalities in hope of a better life. They congregate in vast squatter camps the government tries to replace with starter houses. The people continue to stream in. Demand will grow faster than supply until entrepreneurship replaces social dependence.

NEW DIRECTIONS FOR CITY AGRICULTURE

This change has started. On 11 March 2016 David Olivier, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand posted a paper titled ‘Uprooting Patriarchy: Gender and Urban Agriculture on South Africa’s Cape Flats’. The Cape Flats is a low-lying area around Cape Town Airport between the Cape Town mountain massif and the hinterland.

Geologically speaking, the area is essentially a ‘vast sheet of aeolian sand, ultimately of marine origin, which has blown up from the adjacent beaches over a period of the order of a hundred thousand years.’ In the summer, blistering winds blast the sand against your legs. In the winter, every winter, there are floods.

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Farm Input Subsidy Programmes (FISPs): A Benefit for, or the Betrayal of, SADC’s Small-Scale Farmers?

This paper reviews the farm input subsidy programmes (FISPs) within countries belonging to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), to ascertain whether input subsidies have benefited small-scale farmers, have increased food security at the household and national levels, and have improved the incomes of small-scale farmers.

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U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Underlines Importance to Include Agriculture in COP22

Rabat – U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing underlined, Thursday in Rabat, the importance of taking agriculture into account during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22)’s debates.

“It is necessary to work on how agriculture will be dealt with during the COP22”, Pershing told the press after a meeting with Moroccan Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Aziz Akhannouch, noting that the agriculture and forest sector contribute to greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30%.

The meeting was an occasion to discuss and recommend concrete measures and solutions, notably carbon capture and storage and good agricultural practices meant to preserve the soil, he added.

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Strange ‘Farmfellows?’ Pigs and Chickens Regenerate the Land in Bela Bela, South Africa

When I arrived at the farm, six mother pigs were sleeping under a tree. Surrounding them were about 50 piglets calmly intermingling with dozens of chickens.

I came here, to Bela Bela, north of Pretoria, South Africa, to learn more about a project I’d heard so much about. Run by a diverse team of individuals, this grass-fed pig and poultry project is attracting widespread attention from neighbors, cooperatives, government officials and many who are interested both in restorative grazing methods, and how to run an economically successful farm.

What I learned from my visit with the operators of this innovative project was this: Pigs and chickens make great companions. And when fed a natural diet, and properly managed, they regenerate degraded lands, require minimal medical intervention and use of antibiotics, provide a good income even in during times of drought, and create opportunities for synergy with other local businesses.

From cattle to pigs and chickens

The Bela Bela pilot project is a “necessity is the mother of invention” story. The team here used to raise cattle on the 40-hectare (ha) (about 100 acres) farm. But then circumstances forced them to give up on cattle. The land simply could not sustain an economically viable number of cattle because of its size and because of the degraded state of the land and vegetation. It was impossible to rear cattle herds without massive external inputs of purchased feeds

So the owners decided to purchase a herd of nine pigs.

A short 16 months later, the herd has grown to 500—about 200 adult pigs and 300 followers—who forage side by side with chickens, which have proven to be good companions.

Managing the pigs is as simple as keeping them in three herds. The farm team moves the herds daily, using “tractors.” Moving the herd takes about 30 minutes per herd, and the pigs are counted through a race, which is a portable metal structure which funnels the pigs through a narrow (roughly 2 meters long) section for easy counting, inspection and sorting and moving.

Sows that are ready to farrow are isolated and kept behind the main herd, until their piglets are weaned. Weaned piglets move to the “nursery school” herd—which is where I found 200 piglets happily eating aloes the day I visited. The aloes, a favorite food for the piglets, also serve as a natural de-wormer.

Creative watering points provide wallows for the pigs who enjoy a mud bath just as warthogs and wild pigs would in the wild habitat. The mud provides the best natural dip, eliminating the need for dipping, which is the term used to describe the application of chemicals used to kill external parasites, mainly ticks, on livestock. Dipping has become routine on most farms and is a glaring example of symptomatic treatment using linear thought processes, instead of addressing the root causes of challenges faced by farmers. Routine dipping leads to livestock becoming dependent on the chemicals applied at very strict timings. 

Good for the environment and the animals

Previously, the land at the Bela Bela farm had been exposed to high doses of herbicides which had created large swaths of bare, exposed soil. But the introduction of pigs and chickens is gradually restoring the land’s biodiversity.

Some parts of the farm may take time to fully recover from the impact of previously used degenerative farming practices. But so far the team here is finding that proper management of the pigs and chickens can help repopulate the land with new species of grass, earthworms and insect activity. As it turns out, the hoof action of pigs, and the soil-scratching activity of chickens hunting for insects, break the soil’s hard surface. This improves the soil’s permeability, which in turn encourages the regrowth of natural vegetation.

Combining pigs and chickens is also proving to keep disease to a minimum. Farm Manager Anderson Mutasa says that it is critical to spend a great deal of time with the animals, observing both the environment and the animals, in order to be able to read the signs indicating that either is unwell. Mortalities are low and at a level to be expected as pigs adapt to a new environment. The ethos on this farm is that treating with antibiotics only masks the symptoms of the diseases and does not breed a herd that is well adapted to their environment. Consequently, there is no specific breed of pigs found in this herd, only those that are adapted to this environment. In this case, it is the darker skinned pigs that are proving to be the best adapted.

Profitable for farmers and the local economy

Pigs are not only fast land regenerators, but they also provide a quick return on investment. Because none of the team members had any prior experience raising pig, there were some initial costs associated with the learning curve. But what the team has since learned is that raising pigs and chickens together, in harmony with the environment, presents an excellent opportunity to make good profits at almost no cost at all. Unlike big livestock, such as cattle, pigs have lower investment costs. The animals breed 2.5-3 times a year with an average of 6-7 piglets per pig.

The team here describes their work as “low cost but high skill farming” because the managers must invest time in observing and understanding the environment and animals they are working with, in order to help the animals adapt to the their environment. But they do not spend money on expensive inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides.

While the farm prospers, so do other local businesses. Waste from local dairies and hatcheries is recycled as feed for the pigs. For instance, waste from the production of yoghurt and cheese provides food that is rich in probiotics, which helps maintain the pigs’ gut health. And unfertilized eggs from a nearby hatchery, along with discarded vegetables not suitable for sale at the local market market provide excellent protein and other nutrients for the pigs.

The project at Bela Bela provides another benefit to the local community: education. As word spread about the project’s success raising pigs and chickens without commercial feed, the farm soon evolved into a teaching farm. Fortunately for farmers wanting to venture into free-range pig and chicken farming, the team at Bela Bela is happy to share experiences and knowledge. They have already been approached for training by a cooperative of about 350 households in the area, and they helped set up the pig and poultry project at the Africa Centre for Holistic Management (ACHM).

This project is showing huge potential for sustainable and scalable farming. It is accessible to entry-level farmers, and is particularly well suited for community projects because of quick returns at low cost. Unlike big livestock like cattle, pigs have lower investment costs. The animals breed 2.5-3 times a year with an average of 6-7 piglets per pig.

Many new collaborations are on the horizon and we wish them well and look forward to hearing more about their sure success in the future.

Precious Phiri is the Zimbabwe-based Africa coordinator and steering committee member of Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

Epic Drought and Food Crisis Prompts South Africa to Ease Restrictions on GMOs

Author: Lorraine Chow

In the face of a food crisis and a devastating drought, South Africa is planning to relax its rigid laws over genetically modified (GMO) crops and boost imports of its staple food, maize, from the U.S. and Mexico, government officials told Reuters.

Government officials said that South Africa needs to import about 1.2m tonnes of white maize and 2.6m tonnes of yellow maize from the U.S. and Mexico.

Despite being the world’s eighth largest producer of GMO crops, South Africa has very strict regulations over GMOs. The nation requires that GMO food carry a label, strains entering the country must be government-approved and imported GMO crops are not allowed to be stored. Instead, the crops must be transported immediately from ports to mills.

Makenosi Maroo, spokeswoman at the Department of Agriculture, told Reuters that the country is planning to allow importers to temporarily store consignments of GMO maize at pre-designated facilities, to allow much bigger import volumes.

“In anticipation of the volumes expected to be imported into South Africa, the (GMO) Executive Council has approved the adjustment of a permit condition which relates to the handling requirement,” Maroo told the news agency. “There is therefore no intention to relax safety assessment or risk management procedures prescribed.”

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Could Cows and Sheep Halt Climate Change and Tackle Rural Poverty?

Author: Judith D Schwartz

Holistic management, with its counterintuitive claim that more, rather than fewer, cattle can improve the land, has been around for decades – a kind of perennial cattleman’s quarrel, and a thorn in the hide of ranchers and anti-ranchers alike.

The use of livestock as a tool for restoration has been scoffed at by scientists, reviled by vegetarians and those who blame cows for climate change, and a flashpoint for tension over how to conserve land in the American West.

Reviving grasslands

But that was before Allan Savory, who developed holistic management, won the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge for a programme with “significant potential to solve one of humanity’s most pressing problems.” And before governmental agencies such as USAID and large NGOs like the Nature Conservancy teamed up with the Savory Institute on international projects after seeing the benefits on the ground. And, in an era when one viral video makes the difference between anonymity and renown, before Savory’s TED talk, How to Green the Desert and Reverse Climate Change, flew round the Internet with some 2m views.

At the end of June, I attended the first Savory Institute International Conference, Transforming Landscapes for Global Impact, in Boulder, Colorado. This two-day event, attended by 300 ranchers, scholars and investors from around the world, showed that holistic management is now launched as a global movement – one that’s positioned itself as a vehicle for addressing seemingly intractable problems of climate change, desertification, and rural poverty.

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