The Savory Institute – Re-greening grasslands through grazing

The Savory Institute offers Holistic Management training to farmers, ranchers, and pastoralists across 50+ independently owned regional learning hubs worldwide. Their innovative land management methods regenerate soils, restore ecosystems, and capture carbon. The American nonprofit also works to increase the socioeconomic health of the pastoral communities it works with.

Challenge: Reversing desertification and conserving arable land

Grasslands encompass roughly one-third of Earth’s land surface and 70% of global agricultural areas. They provide food for humans, habitat for countless species, and livelihoods for more than 1 billion pastoralists. However, overgrazing, deforestation, and global warming are turning grasslands into deserts at an alarming rate.

Savory Institute before and after
Holistic Management revived the land on the left side while the neighboring one, under conventional management, remained bare. Photo courtesy of Norman Kroon

“When soils lose moisture, freshwater reserves, groundwater tables, and river flows gradually dry up, too, leading to a further decline in biodiversity and overexploitation of deep groundwater.”


Desertification – defined by the UN as land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas – is happening to circa two-thirds of the world’s grasslands. It exhausts the natural potential of ecosystems, reduces their agricultural yields, and renders them less predictable. Moreover, desertification threatens livelihoods and causes food insecurity, which drives people to develop survival strategies that exacerbate the very same land degradation and poverty.

By destroying ecosystems and habitats, desertification also threatens animal and plant biodiversity. When soils lose moisture, freshwater reserves, groundwater tables, and river flows gradually dry up, too, leading to a further decline in biodiversity and overexploitation of deep groundwater.

Additionally, desertification aggravates global warming. As soils deteriorate and vegetation dies, they release the carbon they previously stored into the atmosphere, boosting the greenhouse effect. In its special report on Climate Change and Land, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) explains that the extent of areas in which dryness (rather than temperature) controls CO2sequestration abilities increased by 6% in half a century and is projected to grow by at another 8% by 2050.

Livestock has long taken the blame for creating these drylands as cattle, sheep, and goats overgraze, leaving the ground bare and releasing methane in the process. But what if they could help regenerate grasslands?

Initiative: Re-greening grasslands through Holistic Planned Grazing

The Savory Institute seeks to facilitate large-scale regeneration of the world’s grasslands and halt desertification while increasing the socioeconomic health and stability of pastoral communities around the globe. To do so, the organization teaches Holistic Management, a practice developed in the 1960s by its Founder and rangeland ecologist Allan Savory.

“One of its central tenets is Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG), i.e., managing how and where cows graze to replicate the way native herds once roamed the grasslands and effectively “worked” the soil.”


Holistic Management is a human and nature-centered pasture design and decision-making framework with associated strategic planning procedures striving for socially sound, financially viable, and ecologically regenerative activities. One of its central tenets is Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG), i.e., managing how and where cows graze to replicate the way native herds once roamed the grasslands and effectively “worked” the soil.

Animal grazing is key to healthy grasslands. Photo: Savory Institute

Moving across the landscape, cattle churn the Earth, stomp grass, stimulate plant growth, and fertilize it with dung and urine, keeping grasslands healthy. And healthy soils contribute to storing carbon, mitigating floods, securing water availability, restoring wildlife habitat, enhancing the nutritional value of foods, and creating economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers.

The organization also emphasizes that healthy soils ensure nutritious, natural diets for livestock, leading to stronger immune systems and decreased needs for veterinary intervention.

Key facts

  • Finalist: The Savory Institute
  • Type of organization: Nonprofit
  • Year of establishment: 2009
  • Headquarters: Colorado, USA
  • Founders: Allan Savory, Jody Butterfield & Daniela Ibarra-Howell
  • Number of staff: 17
  • The big idea: A Holistic Management of lands and livestock to boost the regeneration of grasslands and local livelihoods worldwide.
  • Goal: Accrediting ten new hubs per year to operate 100+ hubs by 2025 and influence the management of 1 billion hectares of grazing land

A global network

The Savory Institute works mainly through two initiatives:

  1. Impact Landed is their capacity-building and project implementation arm working through its Global Network. This community of change agents includes 50+ privately owned hubs spanning 32 countries and 150 accredited educators. Each hub operates as a regional learning center where entrepreneurs help farmers apply regenerative agricultural principles.
  2. Land to Market is, according to the Institute, the world’s first verified sourcing solution for regenerative meat, dairy, wool, leather, and ecosystem services. It engages market partners to secure differentiated market opportunities for producer communities with verified regenerative lands. As of October 2021, Land to Market has more than 65 corporate brand partners.

“It provides farmers with the tools to make informed land management decisions for desired outcomes.”


The initiatives are complementary. Impact Landed catalyzes transformative change on the land and in communities, opening the door for Land to Market to create economic incentives that deepen the shift to regenerative practices. The idea is to set a positive economic feedback loop in motion.

The Institute has also created Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV), a science-based monitoring methodology that tracks land health trends. It provides farmers with the tools to make informed land management decisions for desired outcomes. The methodology was developed with soil scientists, ecologists, agronomists, and regenerative land managers from, among others, Michigan State University, Texas A&M University, and The Nature Conservancy.

The Ecological Outcome Verification collects data from all Savory Institute projects worldwide, entering this information on a digital platform. For a particular land area to maintain its EOV Verified seal, it must demonstrate positive ecological progress. Numerous food brands and meat and dairy producers use the seal to prove the sustainable origins of their products.

Criticism and potential shortcomings

While tens of thousands of farmers have adopted Savory’s Holistic Management and begun regeneration of their lands, several experts have questioned the claimed benefits. Swedish scientists concluded that the approach “could be an example of good grazing management”, but that its biodiversity and climate mitigation benefits were exaggerated.

Other studies on both working farms and trials also tone down their productivity claims, stating that the intensive approach even reduce animal production while being less profitable compared to simpler approaches such as season-long grazing and traditional pastoralist practices. This would make it unsuitable for resource-poor communities.

Educational hubs designed to transform the food system

The Institute’s hubs function as training and demonstration sites, offering regional Savory accredited workshops and Holistic Management courses. The hubs supply biological, social, and financial monitoring services to land managers, organizations, and governments to ensure the long-term sustainability of their initiatives. They also build custom consulting and auditing services for these same entities.

Ecological Outcome Verification training program, Argentina. Photo: Savory Institute

“The Institute’s primary goal is systemic impact. Its model is designed to catalyze systemic transformation in environmental, socioeconomic, and human health spheres.”


Moreover, the hubs promote projects that build leadership, capacity, and self-reliance while providing long-lasting access to an extended peer learning community. The organization designed an exit strategy that leaves a self-reliant community ready to influence its neighbors and continue to scale. The aim is to equip local herders and pastoralists with the tools, knowledge, and peer-mentorship to:

  • Redesign the stewardship of their grasslands and natural resources.
  • Increase soil health, land productivity, and ecosystem resilience.
  • Diversify and enhance their livelihoods.
  • Deliver data-backed, scientific evidence of their stewardship’s contribution to climate change mitigation.
  • Enter differentiated market opportunities in the regenerative sphere.

The Institute’s primary goal is systemic impact. Its model is designed to catalyze systemic transformation in environmental, socioeconomic, and human health spheres. As such, its Holistic Management framework aims to “reconnect humans to the symbiotic relationship between ungulates and grasslands that evolved over millennia.”

Because it operationalizes its endeavors through the global network of hubs, the Savory Institute can be highly intentional in directing funds where these are most needed for maximum impact – on the ground, in the communities. This keeps overhead and administrative costs to a minimum.

Scaling for impact

More than 14 thousand land managers, over 16 million hectares, and across 50+ hubs located in all parts of the world have already benefited from Savory projects. The Institute is now entering a period of accelerated growth, aiming to accredit ten new hubs per year, to operate 100+ hubs by 2025, and influence the management of 1 billion hectares.

The aim is for the trained communities “to shift into a regenerative mindset; to adopt regenerative practices on their lands; and to organically perpetuate those shifts into neighboring communities, far beyond [their] direct involvement.” The Land to Market economic incentive is designed to de-risk and encourage the move to regenerative land management as it increases profitability and scale.

What would the Savory Institute do with the Prize sum?

The Food Planet Prize would accelerate the Institute’s efforts by enabling targeted investments, particularly in regions currently not served by hubs and where critically degrading landscapes and associated crises demand urgent and bold action.

By targeting three new hub regions, The Food Planet Prize funds would lead to the shift of around 3 million hectares into regenerative Holistic Management in five years and bolster the socioeconomic health of those whose livelihoods rely on healthy, productive grasslands. Specifically, the Savory Institute would use The Food Planet Prize funds to:

  1. Provide Holistic Management and Ecological Outcome Verification training to community leaders, and support farmers with soil sampling, lab analyses, and environmental outcome tracking.
  2. Provide accredited professional expertise and mentorship to regional leaders and participating farmers and pastoralists with the creation of initial land plans and bi-annual grazing plans.
  3. Engage Land to Market to facilitate new differentiated market opportunities for products (meat, milk, leather, wool) and ecosystem services from lands verified to be regenerating.
  4. Seed quick turnaround, high-risk pilots to demonstrate innovative blended investment strategies that accelerate, replicate, and scale maximum impact through the established hubs while leveraging additional investments through global corporate partnerships.

Additionally, the Institute would leverage the Food Planet Prize funds to generate storytelling and media assets around these projects to strengthen peer-to-peer learning, resource sharing, and project replication at a global scale.

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