African Holistic Management Centre, Dimbangome, Victoria Falls

1 Our tour of Dimbangombe ranch

It is by now accepted that large areas of grasslands around the world are undergoing desertification; an estimated one-third of the Earth’s surface is covered with grasslands that are facing the threat of desertification. In Zimbabwe, much of the Region 5 designated areas of the country (with less than 450mm of rainfall per year), face such a problem.

Overgrazing is often blamed for degrading lands and desertification. Yet, it is important to understand that overgrazing is a function of time, and not of animal numbers.  Overgrazing is most often a result of livestock returning to a grass plant before it has had time to regenerate.

2 Bare ground exposed through over-grazing or fire

As the Savory Institute put it:

‘In the past, large wild herds of herbivores such as caribou and buffalo migrated over the land to find food and avoid predators. These herds grazed, defecated, stomped and salivated as they moved across the grasslands, building soil and deepening plant roots. Once these herds had migrated onward they would not return to an area until it had recovered.

Unfortunately, over time, the wild herds disappeared and were replaced by small numbers of domestic, sedentary livestock. Without the timely stomping and excrement of large numbers of animals, the cycle of biological decay in these grasslands was interrupted and the once-rich soils turned into dry, exposed desert land.’- (See more at:

A paper by Constance L. Neely and Jody Butterfield argues that “When animals are allowed to roam at will, they will indeed revisit plants before the plants can recover. However, when animals are herded so as to ensure that they do not re-graze plants before they have recovered, then overgrazing is no longer an issue. Time governs the effects of trampling too. Animal hooves enhance soil health when they chip sealed soil surfaces, and knock down dead plants so they can decay more quickly. But they cause damage if animals remain in one place too long or return to it too soon.  By combining small groups of animals into larger herds and planning their daily moves, herdsmen maximize forage production and the benefits of animal impact – the hoof action of the animals as well as the dung and urine that fertilize the soil”.  (

3 At the AHMC, around 400 cattle and 100 small livestock are herded together in compact areas like this. Many of the cattle belong to community members from Hwange, where forage and water are becoming scarce due to a lack of grazing management

“By mimicking the wild herds that roamed these lands in the past and keeping livestock moving, they minimize overgrazing of plants, which over time leads to increased ground cover. Livestock are, in effect, being used as a tool for improving soil aeration, water penetration, seed germination, and increasing species diversity and productivity”. (


4 Livestock are kept in compact, mobile, kralls overnight. After 7 days, the krall is moved, leaving behind a manured and hoof-trampled area, shown above. This is perfect for regeneration of grasses and seedlings growth.

5 Regenerated grasslands, given time to recover properly before the cattle are herded back to this area.

“Rivers begin to flow again because water retention in soils is increased, leading also to more secure and lasting boreholes. These elements, combined with predator-friendly approaches to protecting livestock such as lion-proof kraals, enhance the habitat for large populations of wildlife to grow and flourish.” (

 6. Up until four years ago, there was only one permanent water source on the entire ranch. At Dimbangombe today, parts of the rivers now flow throughout the year, lasting through 8 months without rain. Notice the healthy, vegetated river banks that reduce erosion and the clean river water.

Useful references:

Heyman, B., 2004. Can communities monitor the health of their ecosystems? Implementing the Dimbangombe Ecosystem Health Pilot Project. Tufts University.

Nduiwa, S. and J. Butterfield, 2004. The Africa Centre – revitalizing a community. In Practice (98), Nov-Dec. 2004. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Savory, A. and J. Butterfield, 1999. Holistic Management: a new framework for decision making. Island Press, Washington DC.

Smuts, J., 1970. Holism and Evolution. Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut