Coach House Geography

Interesting Geography stuff for InterHigh

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Lives changed by a millipede

Posted by Lindy on May 1, 2009

This is in Kenya, near Mombasa

Look around at the lush and fertile landscape and it’s hard to believe that this is a man-made environment. Yellow weaver birds making a huge din whilst building their pendulous nests, a sleek cormorant prepares to dive into the water and even a hippo wallows in the mud.

The hippo as it turns out has a vital role to play in the ecosystem. The mud on it’s back is removed from the ponds and so stops the water hole from silting up. The crocodiles too play their part. They feed on the dead farm animals or remnants from the thriving organic fish-farm. And their excreta helps fertilise the water making the algae grow, which is food for the fish as well as nutrients for the rice paddies and bananas

Only 30 years ago – this thriving forest landscape was a rocky, lunar-like desert, created by mining coral for cement. Actually, there are still parts of it which have been newly quarried to give one an idea of how it all started. The inspiration behind the transformation is Dr. Rene Haller, a Swiss agronomist, who has just celebrated his 50th anniversary of living on the Kenyan Coast.

He started experimenting with different trees to see if any would put down roots into the dry, rocky terrain. The Casuarina tree, whose seeds had been washed onto Kenyan shores when Krakatoa erupted in the 1860s, was the best candidate. It produces nutrients in nodules on its roots and so is self-sustaining

But Haller’s most miraculous discovery was the beneficial effects of the millipede. This marvellous red-legged insect loves eating the needles dropped by the casuarinas. It’s pooh then becomes the humus for the more vegetation – thus starting the whole ecosystem development.

Haller’s vision didn’t stop there. He managed to set up lots of different business enterprises supported by rehabilitated land, both employing and providing food for hundreds of local people. He also managed to demonstrate the value of conservation – for example, by showing farmers the benefits of tree-planting in preserving water for irrigation.

To find out more about his ideas go to


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