A Complete Guide To Holistic Management: For Permaculture People

Holistic Management For Permaculture People — Table Of Contents

  1. What is Holistic Management?
    1. Holistic Decision Making
    2. The Holistic Management Movement
    3. Holistic Management Tools
      1. Four Ecosystem Processes
      2. Holistic Financial Planning
      3. Holistic Planned Grazing
      4. Holistic Land Planning
  2. The Benefits of Holistic Management
  3. Permaculture + Holistic Management
    1. Integrating The Two Systems
    2. The Benefits Of Collaboration
    3. How To Move Towards Collaboration
  4. The History of Holistic Management
  5. Learn About Holistic Management

What is Holistic Management?

There are three parts to Holistic Management…

1. Holistic Decision Making

Holistic Decision making is a framework for making decisions (any decisions) which do not have unintended consequences. Holistic Decision making can be practiced by individuals, entire populations, or anything in between. Holistic Decision making will always produce better results than natural decision making regardless of whether the decision is insignificant or massively important. The framework looks like this:

  1. The managers first define the “whole under management” which becomes their Holistic Context. “What are we managing?”
  2. They then define what their deepest goals are within their Holistic Context. The combination of their deepest personal goals becomes the Holistic Goal. “What do we really want?”
  3. The managers then test every single decision they make (using specific Testing Questions) to ensure that they are always moving towards their Holistic Goal and not towards some goal of lesser importance.

To learn more about Holistic Decision Making please read the book “Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making

2. The Holistic Management Movement

The Holistic Management Movement is the worldwide community of people who are using Holistic Decision Making in their management and in their lives. The Movement started in the 80s (similar to Permaculture) and has now spread to every continent. Hundreds of millions of acres are now under Holistic Management! There are two primary organizations which are the driving force behind the movement: Holistic Management International, and The Savory Institute.

3. Holistic Management Tools

The Four Ecosystem Processes:

When the Four Ecosystem Processes are healthy the ecosystem will be abundant, sustainable, and constantly improving. When they are unhealthy the ecosystem will be degrading, unsustainable and unproductive. These four processes help land managers to address the root causes of the problems in their ecosystems and attain the fastest and longest-lasting results.

  • The Water Cycle
    • Is your rainfall being absorbed quickly into the soil? Or does the rainfall stay on the surface and either evaporate or cause erosion? Bare soil is the primary cause of a dysfunctional water cycle. Cover your soil with living plants and litter.
  • Community Dynamics
    • Is biodiversity increasing or decreasing? Is ecological succession moving forwards or backwards? The more diverse an ecosystem is, the more stable it tends to be.
  • Mineral Cycle
    • Are minerals constantly being cycled from dead organism to living organism? Are minerals being lost through soil erosion, leaching, or escaping as gasses? Microorganisms are the key to the mineral cycle.
  • Energy Flow
    • All energy comes from the sun. How efficiently is sunlight being harvested on your land?

Financial Planning:

Holistic Financial Planning is probably one of the tools most desperately needed by Permaculture. If a landscape, organization, or person does not generate a profit than it will soon be replaced by something that does. Therefore, profit is an essential aspect of true sustainability. Profit allows us to achieve the quality of life we desire, and it also allows us to multiply our positive impact on the world. Imagine if you, as a Permaculture person, made as much money as a Wall Street investor? The world would be transformed overnight! Holistic Financial Planning is more effective than conventional financial planning at guaranteeing a profit while also taking into account your personal non-monetary goals.

Planned Grazing:

Holistic Planned Grazing was developed in the 70s and is the source of most “rotational grazing” systems in use today (mob grazing, management intensive grazing, high-density grazing, etc). However most offshoots of Holistic Planned Grazing have left out very important parts of the process. “Rotational grazing” systems will work well if you are in a non-brittle (humid) environment, but only Planned Grazing has been successful in brittle (dry) environments. (The concepts of “non-brittle” and “brittle” environments are more nuanced than “humid” and “dry”. If you are a land manager I highly recommend reading this guide to the Brittleness Scale)

Holistic Planned Grazing is, hands down, the best way to reverse desertification. Permaculture includes many techniques for regenerating deserts, but none of them are as economical or as scalable as Planned Grazing. I highly recommend you watch Allan Savory’s TED Talk on this subject. Holistic Planned Grazing is in use all over the world and has been proven to be able to regenerate even the most desolate landscapes in the world.

I have personally seen Planned Grazing increase the productivity/acre of one Canadian ranch by 200% in just 20 years, and the productivity is still increasing steadily!

Land Planning:

Holistic Land Planning is similar in many ways to Permaculture Design. It is a system for optimizing the placement of infrastructure on your land. I believe that the ultimate landscape design tool would be a combination of Permaculture Design and Holistic Land Planning. Holistic Land Planning is primarily aimed at livestock producers. It focuses mostly on where to position things such as fences, watering points, access roads, corrals, etc.

**To learn more about the Holistic Management Tools pleas read the books “Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making” and “Holistic Management Handbook: Healthy Land, Healthy Profits“.

The Benefits Of Holistic Management

Holistic Management  allows us to simultaneously address environmental issues, social issues, and economic issues. As human beings, we usually focus mostly on one of these areas, and allow the other two to be neglected. The failure to address all three of these areas will always produce unintended negative consequences. If you implement a beautiful Permaculture landscape, which perfectly addresses the environmental side of things, but the project goes bankrupt or raises an outcry in the local community then the project cannot be sustainable.

Holistic Management dramatically increases personal happiness and well-being. Holistic Decision Making is basically a constant reminder to keep moving towards your deepest goals instead of wasting time “being busy”. If you stick with it you will discover that you are making faster progress towards your most important goals than ever before. As you might expect, this will make you tremendously happy!

Has the power to literally change the face of the Earth. With Holistic Planned Grazing it has been proven that even the world’s harshest environments can be regenerated into productive and diverse grassland ecosystems, while simultaneously producing food and profit! This work is already being implemented on millions of acres around the globe. Try to imagine a world where the vast deserts (like the Sahara , Sahel, Mojave, Middle East, etc) where replaced by grasslands, and their associated huge herds of livestock… it could change the world forever! The Earth could be entirely green. This is a goal that I think most Permaculture people share with Holistic Managers. However, before the discovery of Planned Grazing, there was no economically viable tool for regenerating the vast deserts of the world. Now we have one, lets use it!

Holistic Management works. Holistic Management has been proven on thousands of farms and ranches all over the world. All of them have increased their success since they addopted Holistic Management. The typical figures I hear from livestock producers are “100%” or “200%” increase in production within the first ten years. They also inevitably express the amazing, but non-quantifiable, benefits in terms of their quality of life, free time, and improved relationships. But, please, don’t take my word for it. Get out there and try it out for yourself. If it doesn’t work abandon it, if it does work keep doing it. Its that simple.

Holistic Management allows people to work together effectively. Holistic Management has been proven to improve the effectiveness of large companies, small families, and everything in-between. When everyone in the group is working towards a shared goal, one which everyone helped to create, people will want to cooperate and work hard. Not only that, but having a clear method for how decisions will be made also removes a lot of potential conflict from the group.

Permaculture + Holistic Management

Integrating Permaculture And Holistic Management In Practice

Permaculture offers a wealth of novel ideas. Holistic Management offers the framework to asses those ideas. The key to integrating Permaculture with Holistic Management is to recognize that all ideas and plans created with the help of Permaculture must be tested against your Holistic Goal before they are implemented. This is how Permaculture people can avoid the project stagnation or project failure which is so common in the Permaculture Movement.

Holistic Managers You Might Know Of:

  • Allan Savory (founder)
  • Darren Doherty (Regrarians)
  • Ben Falk
  • Joel Salatin
  • Gabe Brown
  • Greg Judy
  • John D. Liu

The Benefits Of Collaboration:

What Holistic Management Has To Offer The Permaculture Movement:

  • Holistic Decision Making: which will dramatically increase the success rate of Permaculture projects

  • Holistic Planned Grazing: an unequaled land-regeneration tool, especially in brittle environments

  • Holistic Land Planning: offers some improvements to Permaculture Landscape Design

  • Holistic Financial Planning: sorely needed, Permaculture people rarely make a profit

  • 4 Ecosystem Processes: valuable new insight into the way ecosystems function

  • A global community of broad-acre farmers and ranchers, huge land base

  • Respect with conventional farmers and the industrial food system

What The Permaculture Movement Has To Offer Holistic Management:

  • A very large, and growing, global community of people passionate about sustainability

  • Techniques for better landscape and settlement design

  • An assortment of creative ideas, not found anywhere else

  • Increased influence in urban areas, among young people, and on the internet

  • Some very creative eco-entrepreneurs

Comparison Of The Permaculture Movement Versus The Holistic Management Movement


Holistic Management

Land Base

relatively small

huge (hundreds of millions of acres)

Number Of People




Urban Areas, Homesteads, Gardens

Rural Areas, Large-Scale Agriculture


More popular among young people

More popular among older generations

Online Presence

Large and growing fast

Small but growing


Generally not taken very seriously by outsiders

Generally has more respect among conventional farmers and in the industrial food system

How To Move Towards Collaboration:

It is clear that more collaboration between Permaculture and HM would be of benefit to everyone. But how can we achieve this?

If we are Permaculture people:

  1. Remain respectful of the value that both sides have to offer, avoid becoming defensive, argumentative, or dogmatic when the “other side” does not totally agree with us

  2. Ensure that we fully understand both Permaculture and HM and how they fit together

  3. Educate our fellow Permaculturists about the necessity of Holistic Decision Making

  4. Start to attend HM events

  5. Read HM books

  6. Talk about HM online with other Permaculture people

  7. Invite HM people to our events

  8. Learn to communicate the value of Permaculture to Holistic Managers

  9. Begin to practice HM in our own lives

The History Of Holistic Management

The idea of Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory over many years as he pursued his various careers in Africa (scientist, farmer, ranch consultant, politician, military tracker, etc). He was concerned about the desertification happening in his country, Rhodesia. He eventually figured out that the desertification was caused by lack of animal impact and that the desertification could be reversed using properly-managed livestock. As he applied his grazing techniques he found that the land would eventually begin to deteriorate again due to the decision making of the managers, not the grazing technique itself. He realized that in order to truly adress the issue he would have to adress the people and the finances, not just the land itself.

The Holistic Management Movement began in the 80s when Allan Savory was exiled from Rhodesia. He moved to Albaquerque, New Mexico and began to teach Holistic Management to ranchers. Originally, Holistic Management was marketed as a way to improve grass production for ranchers. This marketing technique was successful and now there are scores of long-time Holistic Ranchers in the US, Canada, and Mexico. The movement has since spread all over the globe. It is most prominent in English speaking countries. There are relatively few Holistic Managers in South America and Asia, although that is changing quickly. The movement has now grown to include annual conferences around the world, hundreds of millions of acres under management, and recognition among major world organizations. Allan Savory’s TED Talk by itself has recieved over 1 million views.

Because Holistic Managers are almost always more profitable than their peers (to say nothing of the other benefits), global adoption of Holistic Management is inevitable based on economic realities alone.

Learn About Holistic Management

If you are interested in learning about Holistic Management there is no substitute for the original source material:Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making” By Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield.

If you wish to master Holistic Management in a short amount of time there is no substitute for taking a course with a Holistic Management Certified Educator.

If you are ready to start implementing Holistic Management then it is time to get the “Holistic Management Handbook: Healthy Land, Healthy Profits” which will give you more in-depth, practical knowledge.

Holistic Management Resources





Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making

Holistic Management Handbook: Healthy Land, Healthy Profits

Comeback Farms

Gardeners of Eden: Rediscovering Our Importance To Nature

How To Not Go Broke Ranching

Allan Savory Videos

Putting Grasslands To Work

Gabe Brown

-Greg Judy

-Joel Salatin on Holistic Management

-The First Millimeter: Healing the Earth

Holistic Management International

Savory Institute

Africa Centre For Holistic Management

-Allan Savory

-Don Campbell

-Darren Doherty

-Tony Lovel

-Greg Judy

-Ian Mitchell-Innes

-Gabe Brown

-Neil Dennis

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