Report from Africa – June 2006


Dear Friends,

Jody and I returned from Africa just a few days ago, and it gives me great pleasure to share with you observations, reflections, and encouraging developments in Kenya and Zimbabwe. 


Because we are doing work with World Vision (Australia) in Kenya, Jody and I traveled to Zimbabwe via Kenya.  I wanted to be helpful if I could and to meet more Kenyans struggling with their appalling land degradation and rising population.  Most of all we are trying to help where we can with their pastoralist tribes who are falling into increasing conflict over diminishing grasslands and water.  While there, Kenyan papers carried considerable coverage about the army intervening in the conflict in northern Kenya and posed the question "What would ever end the violence”?   As I said in several talks, bringing in the British or American armies would not end the violence nor could the Kenyan army ever do so.  Only one thing will end that violence and that is to reverse the desertification of Kenya and surrounding countries. Two main things are leading to such violence – diminishing resources due to land degradation and rising populations. 

Commonly, people and organizations trying to help in such situations engage in three automatic responses that are fully understandable and come from the heart.  These are:


Thus, tragically and unintentionally, the three most common measures to address the situation end up worsening it through higher populations on more rapidly desertifying land. After one of my talks in which I made this point a women from one of the major aid organizations said to me "Oh how true this is. We have been feeding these people for forty years and there are now five times as many people!"

For any development, health or food aid to really succeed, and not worsen the situation, two things are essential no matter how many billions of dollars are expended by governments and the international community:

Both of these components are, as you know, central to the work we are doing with the Hwange community alongside Dimbangombe where encouraging results are attracting increasing interest. 

Our Kenya visit, combined with the wonderful work being done there by Constance Neely and Craig Leggett on our staff, is paying off in greatly increased awareness and determination by pastoralists and NGOs to get involved in learning about Holistic Management. In particular members of the Maasai and Samburu tribes commented about Holistic Management offering them the first real hope they have heard of.  We will be starting the next Holistic Management Certified Educator program in Kenya in November, with part of that training taking place in Zimbabwe at Dimbangombe.  A great group of people is lining up to participate.

I was impressed with many things in Kenya but most of all by the fact that their pastoral people, and the folks assisting them through various organizations, already have much of the needed structure in place.  I refer in particular to grazing committees and established and well organized and funded conservancies.  Given the fact that these are pastoralists for whom failure to reverse desertification is not an option, their structures, impressive level of awareness and the goodwill of the NGOs assisting them I predict great things are going to happen.  I can see Kenya forging ahead in bringing Holistic Management to the world stage as a means finally of reversing desertification, mounting droughts and violence, and I am looking forward to working with all of them in the years ahead.



Back in Zimbabwe we found all going well despite the economic meltdown and turmoil.  Inflation is now well over 1,000 % and climbing daily.  Money simply cannot be held in the local currency where one US$ is currently trading at over 300,000 Zimbabwe dollars and climbing.  Waiters at tables I noted bring a box to handle the money as clients pay for dinner!

Land reclamation

Pictures tell the story and I want to follow up from the earlier ones you saw to let you know how these demonstrations have fared this season.
The picture below is a site that had been bare for over thirty years.  I took this picture in September 2004.  We had stopped overgrazing of plants more than 8 years ago but the soil remained largely bare no matter how good the rains.  On such soils drought is now permanent regardless of season.

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Because the main agent in desertification is over resting the land as we are doing on this site, we overcame this by greatly concentrating our single management herd of cattle and goats nightly for a week on this spot.  We did this to demonstrate the point I have made so often and that is that management causes droughts rather than droughts causing land degradation, as people believe. 

Following concentration of animals on this site the 2004/2005 rains were the worst in about thirty years – only getting 200 mm where the average would be more like 750 mm.  And for the first time in years grass grew as the picture taken in September 2005 below shows.

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We then gave this site no further special treatment but merely included it within our normal holistic planned grazing of the concentrated herd over the excellent 2005/2006 season.  And now it looks as you see below. 

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Believe it or not this is exactly the same fixed-point photo!  Change was so great that I was confused and had to visit the place three times till I could find the exact site for certain.  This land should now simply keep improving as long as we keep increasing the animal numbers, keep the fires out and keep planning the grazing.

There are several other sites on which we showed the same effective reversal of desertification in a drought.  As a consequence with this season's good rain our river is still running deep and clear and will run throughout this year. This is in sharp contrast with all the similar sized rivers in the area that were dry throughout most of this good rain season after a day or two of flash-flooding.

Although Dimbangombe, when I first acquired it many years ago, was "overstocked" with 100 head of cattle and showing over 90% bare ground in the best grass areas, we are now running about 300 to 500 cattle and goats. And we desperately need to buy in another 500 head of cattle if we can find the funds.  We simply cannot keep pace with the grass growth now that the desertification has been reversed.  It is examples like this that so impressed the Maasai and Samburu pastoralists who are being offered no solution, from government and international experts, other than destocking and the destruction of their very culture and livelihoods.

What of our local community?

With the help of a generous USAID grant of some $420,000 to Holistic Management International to assist the Africa Centre and people of our nearby Hwange Community we are progressing well with two pilot projects at Monde and Sianyanga villages.  Like all major social change these are not going smoothly as we have to deal with not only the community, but government agencies and others clinging to old beliefs, and every day is something of a rollercoaster ride for our staff, but we are prevailing.  We will succeed for the simple reason that for us and the people failure is not an option. 

Both the Monde and Sianyanga communities finally have their animals together and moving on holistic planned grazing and we have monitoring sites established.  As is necessary these pilot projects involve a great deal of other effort – micro-banking with goats as currency to defeat hyper inflation and much education and training on gender equality and HIV/AIDS stigmatization and other health issues.

Unfortunately the USAID grant to Holistic Management International was only for one year, which ends in September. However, although not supporting this further due to policy from higher up, their staff have provided powerful endorsement to enable us hopefully to get some other party to continue the financial assistance.  This Jody and Constance are working on and should any of you have ideas they would be welcome.  As usual however, even if we do not succeed in getting some aid organization to fund the continuation, we will keep it going with our limited resources.

Staff Changes

Rodger Savory having helped us through some difficult times and done much good has now moved on to other things.  His place has been taken by Shane and Rose Bartlett who have assumed management of the ranch, catering, livestock and hunting.  This couple are doing an outstanding job and working very well with Sunny Moyo, Director of our College of Wildlife, Agriculture and Conservation Management which is housed on the ranch and surrounding state land allocated to the College.

Due to the hard times Shane has had to do some drastic pruning of general staff and thus about 50% have been laid off.  With Shane and Rose's excellent management we are confident that he will still get all done that requires doing.  In addition to those laid off Shane has put other staff on half time so they can keep supporting their families. This means some work some days and then others take over like two shifts to get the work done.

College of Wildlife, Conservation, and Agriculture

Our college has received official accreditation by the Ministry of Education of the government of Zimbabwe and this is helping us greatly.  And to make our organization more effective we have finalized the restructuring of our Board of Trustees.  Where we previously had a large group of Trustees making progress at meetings difficult, we now have a small Board of Trustees composed mainly of the five Chiefs of the Hwange Communal Lands and myself with a couple of others sophisticated about funding and policy formation.  And we have formed a permanent committee of the Board – called the College Board - that advises us on college matters and relationships with the community we serve. Onto this permanent committee we have brought a more sophisticated level of people including three Professors from local universities.  We have also included representatives from National Parks and our neighbouring forestry lands.

Elephant-proof crop field

Earlier I had informed you about the elephant-proof crop field we were working on with Libian Sibanda, one of the Monde villagers.  Libian has surrounded this field with a one meter wide and deep trench because elephants do not jump.  He then concentrated all the livestock he could (other villagers provided animals) on the field night after night for a month or so before simply planting into that soil.  No plowing or cutting of trees was done despite the local belief that maize would not grow under large trees.  Here are the first season's results, which are impressive.

The picture below is a view of this crop in February during the rains. 

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On the same day as the picture above was taken we took the picture below of Libian's main field alongside the elephant-proof field.  This by the way was an excellent rain season.

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This visit I was able to follow up by assessing the performance of the two fields.  The picture below shows the maize from the elephant-proof field in Libian's right hand (on left of picture) and the maize from the conventional field in his other hand.  We also measured the two fields and questioned him about the total yield from each.  This showed that the elephant-proof field yielded approximately 15 times the yield per acre!

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Following this impressive difference we are seeing marked interest from other villagers and as a consequence in the present dry season planning the main herd is being kraaled overnight on many fields in turn.  This way we combining the predator friendly herding, reversing desertification and overnight kraaling in lion-proof kraals with better crop production.


Game generally continues to respond to the greatly improved habitat as the improving land provides more forage, cover and water.  Significant increases seem to have occurred in bushbuck and reedbuck and staff recently saw 30 wildebeest on the property. Elephants were just beginning to come in as were buffalo as I left.  All in all it should be a wonderful year for the game if we can once more keep the fires out.  With the river flowing as it is we have been seeing python, Egyptian geese, otters and fish eagles along the river and we now have at least two resident crocs.

In conclusion I hope that you are pleased with the continuing work largely made possible through your generosity in funding Holistic Management International.  Without your continued loyalty and support none of this would be happening.  With biodiversity loss / desertification and global climate change being but three sides of the same coin and the greatest problem facing humanity I hope you will continue to be proud of this leading edge work you are supporting.


Allan Savory