Holistic Management – A review

I’m about 3/4 of the way through a new book, Holistic Management and I’ve gained so many insights that have been beneficial to my permaculture practice, I wanted to write a preview article about them.

The primary author is Allan Savory, a former wildlife biologist, game department ranger, farmer, and ranching consultant.  Mr. Savory was born in Zimbabwe, and it seems the majority of his life experience is in creating and maintaining sustainable animal/plant systems in arid, brittle environments.  About half of the book focuses on defining brittle environments and how successful management  in these brittle environments differs from those for non-brittle (humid) environments (such as those in GA where I live.)

These insights would be particularly of interest to those living in brittle (seasonally humid) environments where most above ground vegetation dies at a certain point and year and simultaneously insects and microorganisms that would aid in recycling or decomposing this dead vegetation also become dormant.

Photo by: Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust

Though I found this very interesting,  the fascinating part of the book  is his goal setting and decision-making process.  The first edition of the book titled Holistic Land Management focused solely on management of land. The second edition expands the decision-making process to cover personal goal setting and decision-making for any type of home or business goal or decision. This process is particularly applicable to setting the goals and evaluating the planned actions of a permaculture design.

The goal setting process is more rigorous than the permaculture goal setting method I learned. It is totally applicable to permaculture goal setting and by nature incorporates the 3 ethics of earth care, people care and resource share. Goal setting  consists of :

  • identifying the key decision makers, resource base,and available funds
  • developing a joint quality of life statement with the other decision makers
  • identifying the proposed forms of production for the enterprise  and
  • articulating a future resource base.

See an earlier post Permaculture Goal Setting for more information about more about permaculture goal articulation. For a better understanding of the difference between these two approaches see:

The second major contribution I found beneficial to permaculture is the decision-making framework the author proposes. He suggests that one use 7 testing questions and your holistic goal to evaluate each decision. The names of the seven questions appear below, you need to read the book to get a full understanding of them.  He devotes a chapter to each question.

  1. Cause and effect.
  2. Weak link (social, biological and financial)
  3. Marginal reaction
  4. Gross profit analysis.
  5. Energy/money source and use.
  6. Sustainability.
  7. Society and culture.

In developing my permaculture design, I identified a list of proposed actions all which I incorporated into the design. Running my list of actions through the Holistic management testing questions:

  • I eliminated 2 of my rain barrel installation actions as low priorities (they were less than critical problems),
  • I decided to make simple mycorrhizal improvements of my soil and not install mushroom spawning beds.  (it achieves my goals at a lower cost; lack of mushrooms to eat really wasn’t a problem for me
  • I added one action, to plant polycultures into the lawn to reduce the need for chemical spraying (question 5)
  • I changed the priorities of my activities based on questions 3 and 4 to focus first on activities requiring less time and less money and contributing more to my “profit”.

I found the testing methods proposed were a very systematic and comprehensive way of testing how well an activity will meet my overall goals. I can see over time how consistently applying this approach will lead to goal achievement.

Also see blog post from Holistic Management website, Taking the Mystery out of Holistic Management

I’ll talk more about the insights from the book in a second post (after I finish it off) but so far, I find this information is a beneficial addition to my permaculture library.