In 1970, he persuaded Bamburi to give him access to acres of its disused limestone quarries. It was wasteland: abandoned and forgotten. But Dr. Haller believed he could bring life there again. First he needed to find a pioneer tree robust enough to survive this limestone desert. He planted 26 different types of tree in the barren ground and over time, he carefully nurtured their growth. But most failed to take hold, their roots too weak to penetrate the soil.
Only three of them survived and of those, the Causarina, a type of pine, had the most potential. Dr. Haller strengthened their root systems by introducing nitrogen-fixing micro-organisms taken from healthy Causarinas (growing on sand dunes) and soon these trees began to grow. And as they grew, they would shed tiny pine needles onto the parched earth. Dr. Haller observed how red-legged millipedes feeding on these needles would secrete droppings that could potentially be used as soil. He introduced more millipedes and after five years, as the Causarinas spread across the land, the ground beneath them began thickening with nutrient-rich humus. Within ten years, the Causarinas were thirty metres high. After twenty years, some collapsed but that only fuelled the abundance of fertile soil that now held the seeds of new life.
Today, Haller Park – as it is now known – is home to a million trees, monkeys, birds and insects. 30 species identified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered flora and fauna can also be found there, symbolizing a miraculous cycle of regeneration: A forsaken place where once nothing grew is now a refuge for living things.
Man had taken life from the land. But now man had used nature to return it.
Dr. Haller’s vision was not only for ecology, but also for local economy to grow, convinced that both could work in harmony. Indeed, during Dr. Haller’s management, Haller Park was environmentally and financially sustainable: it had over forty different natural business streams generating income, including fish farming, beekeeping, tree nurseries and many other sustainable agriculture and wildlife practices.
It is this model for sustainable living, based on the regeneration of land to power local economies that captured the attention of Julia Hailes MBE and Louise Piper who were the catalysts for The Haller Foundation.
Julia met Dr. Haller when they were both awarded the UNEP Global 500 Roll of Honour for their ‘outstanding environmental achievements’ and Louise visited Kenya to meet Dr. Haller whilst she was a colleague of his son, Guido. Inspired by Dr. Haller’s vision for sustainable communities, Louise and Julia decided to set up a charity to raise funds for Dr. Haller’s work and promote his ideas.
And so, in 2004 Haller was established as a UK registered charity.
Dr. Haller believes that people will not protect the environment ‘for tomorrow’ if they do not have food on their plates today. On that basis, we strive to unleash the potential of local economies by promoting a model for development that is both sustainable and environmentally sound.”
Haller has worked with thousands of Kenyans to help them lift themselves out of poverty. This does not mean just providing financial aid. It means that by building on Dr. Haller’s research and philosophy, we kick-start fragile rural communities by equipping subsistence farmers living on dry, eroded land with the knowledge to harvest water, rehabilitate the soil and farm sustainably so they can become self-sufficient and generate a livelihood.
To date, Haller has embarked on five-year partnerships with 49 communities and each programme has a clearly defined exit plan. This is vital. We apply a model for sustainable living by helping communities rejuvenate their land until they can grow food and generate a source of income. At that point, with the foundations of a sustainable future in place, it is time for us to step away. Many communities have now moved beyond our support structure and they are going from strength to strength.
We apply a similar holistic approach to our work in the city. As Mombasa has urbanized, its population has surged and thousands of people are now living in informal settlements well below the poverty line. We provide infrastructure that helps these densely packed communities build capacity and resilience.
But, while our work addresses immediate challenges, it is under-pinned by long-term thinking.
The Nguuni Nature Sanctuary is the lung of Mombasa and there you will find the Haller Education Centre. We built it in 2006 and it is home to Kenya’s first free children’s library. Equipped with an actively used IT centre and a hub for vocational skills training, it supports local schools as well as 17,000 children from informal settlements in and around Mombasa. This haven of green on the edge of the city also inspires them to think about the future and how to protect nature by offering a number of environmental activities and programmes. Building awareness for the need to nurture the environment from an early age is crucial because, in the words of Dr. Haller, “change can take a generation.”
As well as solving challenges like the lack of education, we also have to anticipate them. In fact, we operate in a delicate environment where a solution to a problem can sometimes create another. Take water, for example. We help communities access clean water without having to walk for miles. But we also know that more water can trigger more waterborne diseases like bilharzia or malaria. We prepare for that, ensuring that the long-term foundations are in place for healthy, thriving communities. That kind of forethought was the catalyst for The Health Centre. It was built in 2007 and has provided diagnostic services and treatment to over 32,000 patients since it opened.