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From Field to Fashion – The Savory Institute puts farmers at the forefront

«I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is». Who holds responsibility; the consumer, farmer or corporation?

The Savory Institute is a global movement of regenerative farmers and land managers, conscientious consumers, brands, committed champions and supporters, that focuses on the ecological development of land involved in food production. CEO and co-founder of The Savory Institute, Daniela Ibarra-Howell, describes how it all started. «In the 1960s Allan Savory realised that he had to look at what drove people, financially and socially, and addressed these to understand how to create behaviour change. This people-based focus allowed us to move away from reductionist decision making; believing that to produce more you had to do x, y and z without understanding the consequences of that decision. We focussed on aspects including financial, production, land health, people and organisational health». Their work is based around 3 pillars; demonstrating success through holistic management, equipping farmers and entrepreneurs to create that success using their network, and to influence markets and consumers through their Land to Market initiative. Through their work they have built 47 global hubs, have signed up more than 100 accredited professionals, trained nearly 15,000 land managers and sustainably developed nearly 15,000 hectares of land. With one third of the Earth’s land surface being covered by grasslands, and 70% of these have been degraded, The Savory Institute is encouraging farmers to regenerate their land. They have focussed their concepts in areas such as South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe and the USA working with farmers to instigate Holistic Management.

Their Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV) provides a tangible measurement to their holistic management practice – «comprehensive ecological monitoring is crucial when managing land; without monitoring you cannot understand environmental changes. We worked with institutions, researchers and academic partners. We went through the process of bringing these key indicators of ecosystem health, including soil surface condition, biological diversity, number of species, water infiltration, microbial diversity of the soil and carbon measurements». Instead of focussing on carbon emissions, as is often the case with company’s aims towards sustainability, Daniela sees each indicator as equally important in terms of benefiting the environment. «We are talking about ecological outcome units rather than carbon because measuring carbon is often inaccurate and expensive. We hope that, in a few years there will be technological advances that allow this sort of measurement to become more accessible. Yet at the moment we should be working on using methods that are available to us. Carbon will follow water, water will follow biological diversity, biological diversity will follow soil surface conditions; we are addressing the cycle not just the one aspect». For every 1% increase in organic matter in the world’s 5 billion hectares of grasslands, 64 ppm of CO2 will be removed from the atmosphere; quantities that would impact global climate change.

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CALIFORNIAN LANDSCAPE – PHOTOGRAPHY CLÉMENT CHAPILLON

Using context-based indicators allows The Savory Institute’s 50 hubs to understand whether the farmer is managing their land in a sustainable and efficient way. «If not, we help them to implement initiatives for the farmer to reach optimum production, through strategic planning, implementation, monitoring and changing. If these are not improving for a producer, the local hub is there to support those who are struggling». A large proportion of their day-to-day work focusses on developing practices with farmers to allow them to become more sustainable. «This allows farmers to identify what is going wrong, and what they can do to move in the right direction. And, when they have achieved a more ecologically sound practice, they are rewarded by a differentiation and connection with brands and consumers who are wanting to make a more conscious and sustainable choice. There is a level of pride as the producer is wanting to heal the world. It is the same with brands, as they are fast becoming leaders and champions of society». Up until now, The Savory Institute and their accompanying farmers and hubs have trained nearly 15,000 people and influenced more than 25 million acres of land; a number that they’re constantly trying to improve on. The Savory Institute have been working with farmers in Kenya to encourage them to practice holistic management. They have been working in the Maasai Mara on beef farms to preserve wildlife to make the lives of the local community more economically viable. In doing this, hub candidates have been working with Mara Beef to showcase management practices, to encourage others to follow. The community has instigated methods to regularly more livestock allowing non-intensive grazing. Farmers have seen changes in the way that their livestock are growing, alongside allowing the soil to thrive. Mara Beef has built a slaughter house to provide the community a stable source of income, to keep them practising holistic management. As a result, the local community are more aware of the importance of maintaining their herds, and the cattle are thriving as a result. Their aims here are to reintroduce local wildlife to further benefit the ecosystem.

In 2018, The Savory Institute began working with global luxury fashion group Kering which encompasses brands such as Gucci, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent, as it attempts to advance its sustainability measures.  «In the fashion world, production chains are more complex; we are seeing movement towards shortening and cleaning these supply chains. We are helping these brands to understand that, to clean the planet and mitigate climate change we need to stop waste, pollution and energy consumption; to become more mindful in the way that we source our materials». Kering has become a Frontier Founder under The Savory Institute’s Land to Market program to encourage the incorporation of regeneration sourcing solutions and regenerative agriculture frameworks into fashion’s global supply chains. Their work involves incorporating both farmers and corporations in discussion so that, «when we take the corporate leaders to the farms, they can meet the farmers and see the difference between our aims and unsustainable practices elsewhere. This brings their hearts into it; to show that it is not just a transaction, it is a relationship». Through this holistic framework «you can bring understanding and bridge the gap between your values and drivers to align behaviours in a conscious way». By drawing on their existing networks, The Savory Institute will help Kering to develop their own networks of regenerative farms to incorporate in their fashion supply chains.

Daniela believes that brands are responsible for making changes to their production methods and use their platform to educate about environmental degradation. «Education is highlighting that everything (from fashion to food) has a soul and we need to ensure that it has been made sustainably». This mentality extends to consumer engagement; encouraging individuals to take responsibility for their purchases. Daniela understands that, for a consumer, «it is difficult to understand what is right and wrong; there is often not enough time to stop and understand how to make the right decisions». This is where the importance of education comes to the fore as «we should look at schools as the root for changing mindset; to provide enough good, and information. To ask the right questions (of our children) in order to encourage them to think differently». In Daniela’s opinion the role of education should be to provide a basic understanding. «It is also important to think about where our information is coming from – the sources and institutions behind it. These are often heavily influenced by interest groups». 

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CALIFORNIAN LANDSCAPE – PHOTOGRAPHY CLÉMENT CHAPILLON

Consumer understanding and engagement with these initiatives allows individuals to relate to the «natural world to become more aligned, and more long-term in our thinking». It is this long-term thinking that has the opportunity to create change at the consumer and corporation level; the small actions at the individual level. This mentality has its foundation in the concept of stewardship, and connection to the land as «becoming more connected as a society relies on us understanding the impact of the choices that we make», becoming aware of purchasing powers, to pay for «something well-done, well-sourced; where the social components of how it was made are also regenerative. These are choices that the consumer can make to send a signal to the corporates, to show that this is how we want to spend our money». Daniela believes that consumers have the power to make a global shift towards environmental change, yet to do this, humans need to move away «from an abstractive mindset to one that is regenerative, nurturing and resilient». 

Daniela believes that there is strength in group action, as one individuals’ actions «can grow to create change, to educate themselves and ask the right questions». It is this change in mentality and call to help that The Savory Institute hopes for. «Our statement of purpose is to bring the holistic framework into universal consciousness; our mission and strategy is based on the grasslands of the world but unless we make changes to our decision making, to holistic rather than reductionist, we are going to keep on dealing with symptoms of issues». And their aims for expansion to 100 hubs to influence the management of 1 billion hectares of land by 2025 should help on their way in making ‘holistic management’ a new norm.

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