The constant and rapid urbanization of Africa is having a negative effect on the continent’s fragile ecosystems. Highways, bridges, skyscrapers, and subdivisions popping up on what used to be rural and natural habitats are some of the obvious examples of this damage. A less obvious but equally damaging problem is a large number of cement quarries and abandoned work sites left behind once those structures are complete. The remaining quarries where mining happens are just as detrimental to the environment.
This is the genesis of the story of Haller Park in Mombasa, on Kenya’s coast. The area used to be a wasteland, an eyesore in one of the most beautiful areas in Kenya. Over time the former cement quarry was transformed into an ecological area that is now a 300-hectare natural habitat for different species of trees and animals.
Lafarge Eco-Systems over the years has sustainably utilized Bamburi’s lands and rehabilitated the quarries to demonstrate environmental responsibility whilst involving neighboring communities and other stakeholders.
Peter Mbaru, the Chief Operating Officer at Lafarge explains how it all began.
‘’Our story begins from 1971 when all this place was fully mined up and it was just bare. So, a decision was made by the company to see if we could make the place greener.’’
‘’A few experiments were done and the correct trees were found suitable to be planted, and that is when the efforts to reclaim started back in 1971. As we speak now, we have planted about 300 hectares of land where we have already mined, and it’s a complete ecosystem now with animals, a variety of plants, birds, butterflies, fish, and even reptiles.
At the park, nothing goes to waste not even a drop of water. This has been enabled by a circular ecosystem where water which is the lifeline of the park goes round in circles.
‘’It all begins behind us there, where there are wells at the fish farms. So, the water circulates from the fish farm all the way to the hippo-points, it goes round to the crocodile pens, and then behind us here we have the mangrove forests which help in filtering the water. It goes back to the well then it is pumped again,’’ says Mbaru.
The animals in this park also help in cleaning the environment. The African and Nile crocodiles come in handy. They are fed on the carcasses of those that die while in the park. Indeed, as we journeyed through the park, we witnessed crocodiles feasting on meat that was being served to them by the crocodile handlers.
‘’The few crocodiles which you are seeing here are basically to manage the ecosystem. To make sure that the environment is clean, by clearing all the carcasses in case of death of an animal and to make the waters cleaner.’’
During the 1980’s we are told the number of crocodiles in Kenyan rivers was at an all-time low. The Kenya Wildlife Services-KWS turned to Haller Park for help.
‘’By and large, we’ve helped create some micro-environment in many aspects. Crocodile is just one example where the government had requested that we help them in restocking of the dwindling numbers of the crocodiles in the rivers.’’
According to Mbaru, rehabilitation is a continuous process. He says once the quarry department is through with mining, they move in because they believe this is the only way to give back to the community and to make cement production sustainable.
Over the years, the park has attracted both local and international tourists with students making the largest chunk of visitors here. The Park serves as a “living lab” for students with interests in biology, botany, etc. Mbaru says before the COVID-19 A a fleet of school buses would be seen packed outside the park having brought students to learn about different types of reptiles, fish, and plants. He says the Kenya National Examination Council would often come to the park to get some of the live fish for a practical biology paper for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examinations.
Therefore, the park has not only served the needs of students who are eager to quench their thirst for knowledge on natural habitats, but also people keen on physical exercises in the abundance of fresh air in addition to those who would like to meditate and connect with nature.
Well, the ‘’beauty for ashes’’ story of Haller Park lives on even as Bamburi Cement Factory continues with its mining activities. The government through the National Environment Management Authority-NEMA has now made it mandatory for other mining factories to follow the same course of mining and rehabilitating the quarries for sustainable development.