elephant browsing on a bush in Africa

Eccentric until they aren’t

People with ideas are more valuable than ever, even the eccentric ones.

Many years ago now, I met Alan Savory, the inventor and passionate advocate for holistic management, a form of farming that integrates agricultural production into nature and the people doing the farming.

I recognised where Alan came from, having spent two years in Zimbabwe myself. With my ecological background, I knew right away how he came to understand the process of pulsed grazing and ‘regeneration with rest’ that characterises many savanna ecosystems helps make them so productive.

Alan is a purposeful presenter and engaging enough to have his TED talk on How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change reach close to 5 million views on Youtube.

But the reality is that no matter how logical and profitable holistic management can be for many livestock and mixed production systems worldwide, it has little traction. 

It is still in the backwaters of agricultural thinking well away from the mainstream.

Part of this is because Alan Savory is unusual. 

The average Joe is wary, and maybe a little jealous, of a dude who runs barefoot in Africa amongst the lions and the buffalo.

lioness in grassland on the African savanna
Photo by Dan Maisey on Unsplash.

In Australia, Peter Andrews regenerated a degraded landscape by slowing the water flow with leaky weirs and judicious planting in a process he called natural sequence farming. He wrote a book, a sequel, got the ear of senior politicians, ran training courses, and was awarded the Order of Australia Medal but his ideas remain at the margins.

Part of this is because Peter Andrews is unusual. 

His idea works, but his own farm failed, and his capricious personality puts off many would-be advocates.

A Swiss farmer, Ernst Götsch, has developed techniques that reconcile agricultural production with landscape regeneration through a set of principles and techniques globally known as Syntropic Farming. His 410-hectare farm in Brazil is regenerated from degraded land with the resurgence of 14 springs and the reappearance of native animals. 

But I’m guessing you have not heard of syntropic farming. I hadn’t until recently but Ernst Götsch has been at it for 40 years and his techniques for agroforestry are still not mainstream in that niche area of food production.

Part of this is because Ernst Götsch is unusual. 

Perhaps he is a normal enough fellow but he speaks a very different language to the average farmer. Succession, companion planting, pruning are all tied up with trial and error.

These words are not what farmers talk about in the pub.

wetland with reeds and water loving trees
Photo by Luke Hodde on Unsplash

Savory, Andrews and Götsch are pioneers. 

They share the challenge of doing different and counterintuitive to a farming industry and society that has grown fat on a command and control model of production that relies on energy subsidies.

They are also a little odd, eccentric even.

I admire them for this but most people are put off, a little scared by their passion for what is, for now, the extreme. 

What sustainably FED suggests

Novelty is always a bit scary, shiny with risk even if there is a faint aroma of opportunity around it. It makes people wary and aversion comes with the territory, rather like the three stages of food security: Not true, better ignore it, I told you it was true.

Only humanity needs these gentlemen and thousands more ideas people. They deserve our support so their ideas get to stage 3 when everyone says…

 I told you it was true.


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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