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Regenerative Land & Livestock Management: producing grass fed meat and creating wealth by restoring land and empowering people

A transformed meat system driven by brand and consumer awareness - healthy grass fed meat produced on regenerating land

Photo of Debra Pretorius
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Olive Leaf Foundation

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Savory Institute, nRhythm, Michigan State University, Grass Fed Association of South Africa, Langside Meats, University of Fort Hare, Evenson Farms, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Zulukama Tribal Authority, Agri Eastern Cape, Red Meat Producers Organization Eastern Cape, Cape Wools, Flanders' Government, Christiaan Campbell (Sustainable Restaurant of the Year 2018)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

South Africa

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Transkei & Ciskei: former Homeland areas under Apartheid allocated to black South Africans of Xhosa descent, 52,800 km^2 total area

What country is your selected Place located in?

South Africa

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We selected the Transkei and Ciskei due to the regions’ legacy. Under Apartheid, blacks were allocated land based on their culture, as a way to keep racial groups apart (the core meaning of Apartheid). People of Xhosa descent were assigned to the Ciskei and Transkei. These ‘Homelands’ were neglected by the government, resulting in widespread land degradation and poverty.

After 25 years of democracy, little has changed, and the cycles of land degradation and poverty remain unbroken. We believe Olive Leaf Foundation (OLF) – with a vision to Preserve, Develop and Regenerate people, communities and the environment – is able to break these cycles. OLF offers a holistic intervention to transform historically disadvantaged communities through empowering people, restoring land, creating local wealth and transforming the food system.

The region is important to us as it represents the most vulnerable rural groups in South Africa. In addition, the Xhosa nation has a proud history of livestock ownership, and our initiative uses animals to heal degraded land, thereby creating a natural synergy between OLF and the region.

In 2014, the Zulukama Tribal Authority approached OLF to assist 7 Youth Wool Growing Cooperatives, which received breeding ewes as part of a municipal initiative to stimulate farming in the Ciskei. Through training and mentoring in livestock and land management, the Co-ops reached commercial production benchmarks. Thereafter, the project expanded into 6 villages in the area.

A member of one of the co-ops, Ayanda Mrwebi, became part of the OLF team, working as a Project Manager. Born and raised in the pilot village, Ayanda is the first member of his family to transition from communal to commercial smallholder farming.  He is a key asset to the project, providing grassroots insight and knowledge.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Place is located in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, with the Kei River bisecting the region: The Ciskei (this side of the Kei) to the south and the Transkei (across the Kei) to the north. From the mountainous interior, many streams drain into the Kei and Fish Rivers, where rich soils and ample rainfall make these river basins good for farming and livestock grazing. The region includes verdant rolling hills near scenic coastal areas and harsh, dry inland sections. The climate is variable: the western interior is dry with cold frosty winters and hot summers, while eastward rainfall increases with subtropical conditions along the coast.

The Place is largely inhabited by the Xhosa (part of the Nguni ethnic group). The Xhosa represent the second largest cultural cluster in South Africa and speak, isiXhosa, a language characterised by many click consonants (C, Q, X).

The Xhosa have a rich, diverse cultural heritage. Storytelling, music and dance all play a role.  Traditional Xhosa clothes are made from cotton woven into unique vibrant patterns. Beads, in a rainbow of colours, are made into earrings, necklaces and traditional collars. White ochre is used for face painting – small dots make intricate patterns on the face.

The traditional Xhosa diet includes meat (beef, mutton, goat), bread, corn, pumpkin, spinach and fermented sour-tasting milk called amasi. Food is often cooked on open fires in large black pots, adding a smoky flavour to the meal.

The rural areas are divided into villages and communal tracks of land for livestock grazing. Each house has a patch of ground for growing vegetables and fenced-off areas for livestock.

Due to poverty and economic decay, there is a growing generational gap as the youth seek employment in the cities. Rural dependence on income sent from the urban areas is escalating. This is known as the ‘Black Tax’, the burden of provision that falls on successful members of a family to support those not able to make ends meet.

The Xhosa have a long, proud history of livestock (cattle, sheep, goats) farming, and ownership of animals fulfils a number of diverse functions: economic, cultural, spiritual and traditional. The traditional view is of livestock as a symbol of wealth; therefore, quantity takes preference over quality (genetics). More animals mean more respect. Another view is livestock as a ‘bank’ to store money: in times of financial need (funerals, school fees) the asset is liquidated by selling animals. Culturally, livestock play a key role, for example the lobola system: the number of cattle a man must pay the bride’s family as compensation. Spiritually, the Xhosa believe that God is approached through ancestors, using ritual animal sacrifices.

The Xhosa living in the former ‘Homeland’ regions have hopes for the future, summed up in the words of a young Xhosa farmer: 'We would like people to come and help us help ourselves'.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.” Michael Pollen

What is happening behind the walls of the meat industry? What are its challenges?

Today, too many people are eating too much cheap meat. And the global demand is growing. Therefore, there is a sharp increase in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO), which depend on animal feed (soybean, maize).  Currently, 35% of the world’s crop production is devoted to animal feed – increasing demand will put pressure on existing forests, woodlands and grasslands. By 2050, there will be intense competition for arable land: crop production for human food vs animal feed.

In addition, grains used in CAFO are grown with high chemical fertiliser, pesticide, herbicide, fossil fuel and water inputs. Beef produced in CAFO needs 65 times more water than grass-fed beef (860 litres for 500g grain-fed steak). South Africa is a water scarce country (ranked 30th), but 75% of its cattle spend a third of their lives in feedlots.  Leading up to 2050, chemical inputs will increase, further depleting the soil and inhibiting its ability to store organic carbon, thus driving climate change and threatening food security.

Beef produced in CAFO is unhealthy, as animals are given routine antibiotics (80% of all US antibiotics are fed to animals). Also, ruminants (cattle, sheep) have not evolved to digest grains, increasing the risk of acidosis. Meat produced in these conditions have an unhealthy fatty acid profile. A diet high in unhealthy meat is linked to obesity and heart disease.

How does this relate to Africa? By 2050 the continent’s population is set to double: 2.4 billion (25% of the global total). Here poverty and land degradation collide – 40% currently live on less than $1.90 a day and 1.4 billion hectares are depleted. By 2050, food security and hunger will be a major concern, as land continues to degrade.

How will Africa feed her people? Livestock farming forms the economic backbone of many communal areas. But economic stagnation, lack of skills, limited technological innovations, poverty, lack of social cohesion and unemployment are rife. The youth are flowing to the cities (80% of South Africans by 2050), leaving a generational gap, further impoverishing these communities. Village life is dying and hope is fading – a sense of despair driven by a lack of vision for the future. In South Africa, the agrarian, pastoral heritage of the Xhosa is under threat. Poor land and livestock management are leading to degraded land, which fuels poverty.

Understandably, livestock and the meat system, have a negative reputation. There is mounting pressure from the vegan movement to remove all animal products from our diet. Is meat-free the future? Or is there a future for livestock as a tool to restore land, revive economies, increase food security, preserve traditional cultures and bring hope?

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

We need to kick the cheap-red-meat habit. And we need to get livestock back onto the grass, because cattle and sheep are grass eaters; their digestive systems are designed to process grass (not grains). Grasslands and ruminants co-evolved; there is a fine balance: the health of one depends on the health of the other. By grazing on grasslands that are not suitable for growing crops, livestock convert inedible grass into high-value protein, rich in vitamin B, iron and zinc. Add to this the ability of livestock to regenerate degraded land while creating wealth, and we have a revolutionary opportunity to turn the challenges of the meat system on its head.

To feed her growing population, the subsistence and small-scale farmers of Africa need to be empowered to use the resources (land & livestock) at their disposal. But how is this Vision possible?

Communal farmers learn to be active decision-makers and co-creators within their community (using the Regenerative Framework). Working as a team with a common purpose within a holistic context, communities use their livestock to heal the land: animals are bunched and moved according to a grazing plan, and the hoof impact breaks up compacted ground enabling nutrients from dung and urine to penetrate the soil, feeding the microbes – a microscopic community vital for soil health and carbon storage (Holistic Management). This healthy soil draws down CO2 from the atmosphere (where it causes problems), and stores it underground (where it belongs): a key component in addressing climate change. And the unexpected tool is livestock.

Restoring the land in turn addresses poverty in the region. Healthy soil produces more grass, providing more feed for livestock, so animal numbers increase. There is a shift from subsistence to commercial smallholder farming, as excess stock is sold (into a premium grass-fed supply chain through Land to Market), giving rural households additional income. A revived local economy encourages the youth to remain in the rural areas, a vital catalyst in preserving the livestock heritage of the Xhosa.

Land to Market is key in telling the story of meat, and educating the consumer about meat: livestock as a tool to regenerate land. It links conscientious consumers and brands with producers who are managing their land and livestock in a regenerative way.

Let us remember our individual power: “You, as a buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit.” Joel Salatin

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Our vision is to give food a voice. To amplify its volume. What is food’s story? Let us hear what food has to say: where it comes from, how it is produced, what impact it leaves on the land where it grows. Nothing is produced in isolation, everything is interconnected. For a hopeful future the links need to be examined and understood. Why? Because the implications of food production are widespread, like the ripples of a pebble dropped into a lake, expanding in ever-widening circles, far from its source.

Food speaks a universal language. It is the foundation of all civilizations and cultures. Without food there is no economy, no education, no democracy, no freedom, no gender equality, no technology, no policy.

We envision a world where consumer and producer connect. A world where people ask: Is the food I’m eating regenerating the land where it grew? A world where food policy- and decision-makers are influenced by consumer pressure and choice. A new generation of conscious consumers, and the revival of small-scale producers who help to feed the world, while healing their land and soil. And the surprising catalyst, is livestock.

Livestock has a deep and ancient spiritual, agrarian, pastoral, economic, status and culinary link to the Xhosa people. We envision a meat system in which livestock is a tool for positive change. We envision a 2050, where, using livestock in a regenerative manner, communal economies are renewed, depleted soils are restored, degraded land is healed, a traditional way of life is preserved, women small-scale farmers are included and cell phone technology is not just a distraction but a means for growth.

 Our vision includes a future where the meat vs vegan war drives positive change. For the debate to evolve: to promote an understanding that not all meat is bad. A future where the meat system produces high quality, healthy, grass-fed meat produced on regenerating land.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

In the words of Wendell Berry: “Eating is an agricultural act.” So true. But it is also a political act, an environmental act, an economic act, a health act, an ecological act and a cultural act. An action with widespread and diverse consequences. Food is linked to all the major systems of modern civilization; it is the prerequisite of every civilization.  And history has a solemn warning for us: civilizations have failed due to their agricultural practices. Where soil is depleted, plants and animals perish, people starve and civilizations crumble. Let us learn the lesson history teaches.

So, what is the alternative? What is a noble Vision of Food that can preserve our civilization, our communities, our families, our lives?

The clue is hidden in the words of another brave advocate, Allan Savory: “Ultimately, the only wealth that can sustain any community, economy or nation is derived from the photosynthetic process - green plants growing on regenerating soil.”

It is about the soil, the source of all our sustenance. We live within the web of life, each thread intertwined, holding the whole together: healthy soil leads to healthy plants, to healthy animals, to healthy food, to healthy water, to healthy humans, to a healthy climate and, ultimately, to a healthy civilization. Caring for the health of the soil is foundational – it creates a positive ripple effect.

Therefore, we envision a world, an African continent and rural South African communities where meat is produced within a holistic, regenerative framework. A meat system where all farming and production decisions are grounded in a holistic context, developed using multiple lenses: environmental, cultural, ecological, social, economic and health. A meat system influenced by conscious consumers, who want to know where their meat comes from, how it is produced and whether or not it regenerates the land upon which it grew.

To realise this Vision for the meat system, a number of innovative technologies and methods are needed: The Regenerative Framework, Holistic Management, Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV) and Land to Market. If these technologies gain traction now, the outlook for meat in 2050 is hopeful.

The Regenerative Framework, created by nRhythm, takes a holistic, living systems-based approach to community design. It is a game-changer in communal farming areas, as it intentionally develops community members as active decision-makers and co-creators. The individual members of a community come together to define their unique purpose, values, goals and desired behaviours. As a result, the process of change is driven from within the community, ensuring lasting transformation and sustainability. The outcome is, therefore, a Regenerative Community: A living, evolving and naturally functioning community where abundance and resilience are recurring outcomes of its underlying health.

The Regenerative Framework works in synergy with Holistic Management. Based on the work of Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean scientist, Holistic Management is a systems-thinking approach to managing resources, resulting in restored grasslands. And healthy grasslands, in turn, have a number of positive outcomes: food security, carbon sequestration, drought resilience, water infiltration and economic viability. Holistic Management teaches communities to use their livestock to heal their land. Contrary to current mainstream views livestock need not be the villain, but rather an unexpected tool, when managed correctly, to regenerate the land. A hectare of healthy soil can store 14.3 tons CO2 annually. Imagine, by 2050, 1 billion hectares of restored land can drawdown 14 billion tons CO2 each year.

Not only is the land healed, but its productivity increases significantly. And this means greater livestock numbers (3 or 4 times more), stimulating the local economy and addressing poverty. In this way, there is a shift from subsistence to commercial smallholder farming, as livestock owners have excess stock to sell – locally or into the premium grass-fed supply chain via Land to Market. The creation of local wealth is linked to the revival of the village economy where communal values, practices and bartering, using local currencies, can once again emerge. Money circulates within the local economy for longer, as food supply is now available. No longer are rural communal areas stagnant, but instead they thrive, preserving the pastoral culture of the Xhosa, and giving the youth a reason to stay on the land. With entrepreneurial opportunities and enterprises developing along the meat supply chain, cities are no longer as alluring.

A key component for the revival of local economies, is Land to Market, also a game-changer in the food system. Developed by the Savory Institute team, it is a sourcing solution that connects conscientious brands, consumers and retailers directly to farms and communities that are verified to be using their livestock to regenerate their land. More and more consumers are questioning the source of their food. They are seeking meat that has a positive impact on the environment. For many decades’ agriculture has been degenerative: extracting nutrients from the soil and pumping massive quantities of chemicals onto our land and our food. These consumers want an alternative, and this is what Land to Market offers, in conjunction with Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV).

EOV is the ‘science inside’ the Land to Market programme. Developed in collaboration with leading soil scientists, agronomists, ecologists and a global network of land managers, EOV is the empirical instrument used to qualify farms and communities into the Land to Market programme. The protocol tracks outcomes in biodiversity, soil health and ecosystem function (water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow and community dynamics). Farms and communal land showing positively trending outcomes receive Ecological Outcome Verification (renewed annually). These are entered into a regenerative supplier roster, accessible to those seeking natural food and fibre, produced on regenerating land.

The power of EOV is it gives land a voice. Positive or negative trends in the health of a landscape are clearly seen, providing critical information for farmers as they continually learn and receive support on their journey as land stewards. As a result, EOV is driven by producers, from the bottom up. In addition, the goal is to create one of the largest global databases for monitoring grassland health, that will inform the public, policy makers and markets. Imagine in 2050: on each continent, a comprehensive network connecting producers and consumers?

As food consciousness shifts, in 2050 we envision a meat system no longer driven by industrialised production: livestock kept in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO), eating grains produced with high fossil fuel and water inputs. This system may yield large quantities of cheap meat, but we envision a meat system that produces less meat, at higher prices, while regenerating the land, storing carbon, promoting an efficient water cycle and reviving local economies. Diets will shift with growing awareness: less meat, but quality, healthy, grass-fed options with a regenerative function.

We envision 2050 with unbounded technology – every aspect of our lives will be impacted by it, including the food system. Open source information will dominate, linking poor previously disconnected rural communities with vital resources and help. Technology will transform livestock production, with the use of animal health and land monitoring applications just a click away on the mobile phone. Online marketing and social media, as a means of telling the story of meat, will further drive consumer awareness.  For this to be a reality, it is critical that African countries remain digitally up-to-date, otherwise the gap between the ‘have’ and the ‘have-nots’ will just increase.

Ultimately, for this food vision to be a reality in 2050, the entire way we understand global economics must shift. A new economic vision is needed; one that is governed by an ecological ceiling (to contain the pressure exerted on the Earth’s life-supporting systems) and a social foundation (where no one falls short on the essentials of life), as proposed by Kate Raworth, in Doughnut Economics. This innovative approach will in turn drive policy in the food system, from the top down.

Finally, in the words of Allan Savory: “If you dig deep and keep peeling the onion, artists and freelance writers are the leaders in society - the people who start to get new ideas out.” It is time for the storytellers to rise. The story of food needs to be told. The story of meat needs to be told. And may that story define our food and meat choices, now, making a hopeful future possible.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Through a colleague in regenerative agriculture
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Team (6)

Debra's profile
Rolf's profile
Rolf Pretorius

Role added on team:

"Chairman of Olive Leaf Foundation. He is a social entrepreneur who plays a key role in enterprise development along the value chain, beginning on the farm and ending with the consumer. Rolf has strong strategic planning, communication, networking and business development skills. He is a visionary and holistic thinker committed to finding viable solutions to address climate change. He thinks outside the box, promoting positive disruption which drives constructive change and paradigm shifts."

Adrian's profile
Adrian Cloete

Role added on team:

"CEO of the GrassFed Association of South Africa: an agri-centric organisation established to enable primary producers to produce certified free range and/or GrassFed meat for consumers."

Alexandra's profile
Alexandra Groome Klement

Role added on team:

"Operations Manager at nRhythm. Alex has collaborated with and led a diversity of teams at international networks and nonprofits for the past six years, tackling complex environmental, social and organizational challenges. Through her work in regenerative agriculture, Alex discovered her passion for helping organizations apply regenerative principles to their organizations in order to enable them to thrive. She has a BAH in Environmental Studies from Queen’s University (Canada)."

Tre''s profile
Tre' Cates

Role added on team:

"Managing Director at nRhythm. Tre’ founded nRhythm in 2009, as a management consulting firm in Boulder, Colorado and it is the product of 45+ years of combined experience designing, operating, and resourcing organizations, networks, and communities working to address the world's most complex social and environmental issues on six continents. nRhythm developed the Regenerative Framework, which takes a holistic, living systems-based approach to organizational design and management."

Daniela's profile
Daniela Ibarra-Howell

Role added on team:

"CEO & Co-founder of Savory Institute. Daniela is an agronomist, with over 25 years of international experience in ranching, Holistic Management, and collaborative ecosystem restoration programs. She has led her team in the design and implementation of a revolutionary entrepreneurial, self-sustaining global impact strategy for large-scale restoration of grasslands through Holistic Management to tackle global food and water security, and climate change issues."

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Attachments (4)

The Fate of Cities.pdf

Fate of city-based civilization in the hands of farmers: Allan Savory's Keynote talk at the No Till Winter Conference 2018, Wichita, Kansas (2018) The article highlights the key role livestock can play in restoring land and our current civilization.

Land to Market.pdf

An article about the science inside Land to Market: a full-circle solution that begins and ends with the regeneration of the land.

Proven results.pdf

Evidence of change: after 3 years of Holistic Management the land is restored.

Mceula Village Context.pdf

Example of the Statement of Purpose, Supportive Environment and Quality of Life Statement, created by village members using the Regenerative Framework.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Usama Turajo

Hello dear.
I will like to informed you that The date for submission is on (31 January,2020) so please try and have a look at the pocket guide to rectify your work
Usama turajo

Photo of Debbie Ajei-Godson

Great vision Debra! Beautiful idea that Fulani herdsmen (the Xhosas) in Central and Western Africa can adopt in order to avoid perennial clashes with farm owners. I would love pay a working visit to see how your team does this while engaging the xhosa communities. Kudos!

Photo of Debra Pretorius

Hi Debbie, thank you for your input, we currently have a project in Senegal, working with the Fulani herdsmen, that you can go an visit. Please contact me directly by email and I will send you the detail,