Keynote Address: Uniting Team Humanity


Introduction: Daniela Ibarra-Howell, CEO, Savory Institute

The Savory Institute spans 20 countries and 5 continents but Europe is a new territory for them.

It is important to reach outside of the United States. There are 3 hubs in Europe and 5 in Africa. There are also 2 special projects in China and the UAE.

To begin, the following two questions need to be answered:

  1. Why London?  We wanted to be in a city as the disconnect between agriculture and the city is growing stronger. We need to connect with consumers, politics, decision makers etc. It is important to create incentives and facilitate understanding.
  1. Who is the Savory Institute? We are a young organisation but backed by decades of experience. We were funded 5/6 years ago and our aim is to restore the world’s grasslands via a global network.

N.B. ‘To ensure a worldwide shift towards a holistic approach to agriculture, Savory Institute has set a goal for 2025 of establishing 100 Hubs, influencing 1 billion hectares of grasslands across the continents.’ from Savory Institute website.


Allan Savory, President, Savory Institute


‘Very simple ideas lie within the reach only of complex minds’

Remy de Gourmont


We need to ask the following two questions: Where are we going? How can we make it happen?

The dream is a unity of team humanity in which the planet is healthy. London is a fitting place to host this conference as it is a melting pot. I wish that I wasn’t talking to such a small choir. We need to reach the power base and that is not in rural areas. The cities control our fate but yet they will suffer the worst. Agriculture is going horribly wrong.

Economists assure us that agriculture is not important as it is such a small percentage of GDP but without agriculture we would have nothing.

What is agriculture? Many people say ‘crop production’ but it is far more. I would offer the definition as ‘the production of food and fibre from land and water’. However, we need to look at the broader context. Agriculture uses much of the planet. Only 5% is crop production. In The Age of Turbulence  by Alan Greenspan there is only one mention of agriculture in the whole book.

We need 0.5 tons of food per year per healthy person but we produce 75 billion tons of dead eroding soil. We have diminishing resources in the face of a future rising population, increasing wars, poverty, climate changes, pollution etc. Agriculture is the most destructive industry that we have in the world and the circumstances are grim. There are lots of books about what we need to do but we have to look at how to do it.

We need to facilitate changes in agricultural policies to achieve our dream.

The Future of Humanity Institute Report cited 5 dangers to human survival.  They stated that climate change is not one of the 5 as some parts of the planet will still be habitable. If this is true, we may eventually have to abandon our cities. This will not be a new experience for humanity as we have done this before. The Watchman’s Rattle by Rebecca Coster speaks about this. Societies declined and failed as they failed to deal with increasingly complex problems.  Also Voltaire’s Bastards by John Ralston Saul is another interesting book that deals with these issues and is worth reading. He discusses the blunders that take place because of amateurism. Napoleon dealt with this by appointing ‘experts’ but did the blunders decrease? No! The education and training was too narrow and the division of knowledge was a problem. The more of this division, the more the mistakes increased.

Jargon protects institutions from criticism.

We have to address the issue of complexity.

We are surrounded by the following:

  1. Everything that is made and that has interconnected parts.
  2. Everything that we do not make but manage. This has no interconnecting parts but is self-renewing and complex.

It is the latter area where we are running into increasing trouble resulting in wars, destruction etc.

Agriculture and our institutions are complex. To address this complexity is the key and is the most pressing need. It is our ‘Achilles Heel’ and will be solved with minds and not technology. The problems are connected at different levels with a common cause that is not immediately apparent.

We have a genetically-embedded way of making decisions.

We use a simple process:

  1. Objective
  2. Tools – we are tool-using animals
  3. Make decision

We use this process to solve everything from simple to sophisticated problems. However, this process runs into trouble when dealing with complexity.

No tool could prevent 2/3 of land turning to desert. We are missing a tool. We use a limited number of tools at present to manage the environment:

  1. Technology
  2. Fire

Next, policies have objectives to deal with the problem, but all objectives need a context. Why? Because we have to look at circumstances etc. as well as possible unintended consequences.

Any agricultural objective needs a context.

In policy it is not always so obvious what the context is and this is a problem. It is not so much the policies themselves, but the way that we develop them that causes problems.

The objectives to succeed are:

  1. Full public support
  2. Address the underlying cause and not the symptom
  3. Need a context that is greater than the individual problem – i.e. we need a holistic approach.

Policies often do not look across the board at these and are developed with reductionism. Number 3 includes the political, social and economic implications. We need to develop policies holistically. What does this look like? What is a holistic context?

We need to consider the following: stable families living in peaceful societies, security, freedom to believe, health, leisure, balanced lives, ensured for future generations an ecologically secure and diverse environment.

The US Department of Agriculture engaged the Savory Institute to put officials through training some years ago. After this training, they stated the following: ‘We now recognise that unsound resource management is endemic in the US’.

The length of time to get governments to make holistic policies depends on us and not on governments! Lord Eric Ashby wrote about how truly new scientific insights get into institutions. Institutions cannot act until society changes.

When it comes to new, counter-intuitive knowledge, institutions act only when society changes.

People who believe agriculture should be based on biological sciences account for only 5-10% vs those who believe it should be based on chemical sciences make up the rest. The 5-10% are not even at the policy table. If policies have to go with public opinion, we have no say at the present time.

We need one idea that no politician or scientist can’t argue. If we had this, it would get us to the policy table.

That idea is that policies and management need to be holistic.

This is the idea that we can use to unify people.

Nothing requires further research or further knowledge. The strategy of hubs will give a springboard to increased facilitation.

It is important to remember that no one will come to rescue us. Most international conferences are complete confusion.


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