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Bringing the desert to life: The biodiversity project of a Swiss man in Australia

Posted on June 12 2020

Turn barren and dry desert into fertile soil and enable extensive biodiversity – all this in only 30 years. The Swiss Christof Henggeler shows how and inspires people to do the same.

Christof Henggeler

A Swiss farmer who realizes his vision in the Australian outback: That's Christof Henggeler. Born in today's Zimbabwe, Henggeler has been familiar with farming in a sometimes inhospitable climate since childhood. When his family withdrew to Switzerland at the outbreak of the civil war, he took leave of farming – for the time being. Having arrived in "civic" life, the astute investor began to build up reserves and acquire real estate.

In Switzerland Henggeler also met his wife, the couple married and got three children. When the point was reached that the family could live on Henggeler's rental income, the Swiss farmer realized his life's dream: he emigrated to Australia with his wife and children, acquired his farm in 1990 and set out to demonstrate his vision to the world. For 30 years, Christof Henggeler has been proving that mankind not only destroys, but also has the opportunity to reactivate nature's self-healing powers.

Farm animals as landscape gardeners

In the extreme weather of the Australian outback, the Henggeler family lives an hour's flight away from the nearest settlement. The Swiss family keeps cattle, the herds make the rounds on the vast lands, according to a system that Henggeler has worked out by trial and error. His cattle are basically landscape gardeners, because they don't have to be profitable. No animal is milked or goes to the slaughterhouse. The task of the herds is quite different. 

Christof Henggeler

On the one hand, the cattle loosen up the soil with their hooves during their rounds on the pasture, but they also kick in plant parts and seeds and use their excrement to provide fertiliser for their prosperity. Gradually, plants germinate in previously desolate landscapes, and the cycle of rain and sun ensures that native plants, which are accustomed to the climate, can spread again. If the vegetation is well rooted, the soil can also store rainwater again.

What Christof Henggeler has achieved in thirty years is astonishing. On his farm, the small watercourses carry water all year round, green vegetation stretches as far as the eye can see. A miracle – but a human-made one.

Henggeler's vision is transferable

The Swiss farmer does not want to rest on his successes. On the contrary, he wants to point the way forward. His project has shown that targeted land management on supposedly deserted soils can once again create water security and biodiversity in just one generation. At the same time, he has visibly expanded the planet's green lungs and made an enormous contribution to binding CO2 emissions. 

Christof Henggeler

Henggeler's approach is simple – he assumes that patient observation and careful intervention will lead nature to heal itself. For him, nature is the teacher. He has not, however, taken the ideas out of thin air; he refers in many ways to the ecologist and livestock farmer Allan Savory, who invented holistic land management.

With this approach, areas in the tropics and subtropics can be protected and healed, as well as deserted areas can be revived.

Holistic land management in the pros and cons

The method, which the Swiss man has developed over decades on his farm, can make a significant contribution to helping people who today are forced to leave their homes due to climate change, for example in the Sahel region. In addition to revitalizing the landscape, Henggeler sees the trade in CO2 emission certificates as an opportunity for additional income for these countries. 

But the approach is also, how could it be otherwise, criticized. At the beginning the Swiss family was smiled at anyway, but today the most important point of criticism is that the farm is not making a profit. And it doesn't have to. According to opponents of the method, people in the African Sahel or farmers in the Spanish plains cannot afford that.

Christof Henggeler

But the Swiss are resolutely opposed to this – they assume that a change in awareness is taking place, that informed consumers will use the shopping trolley to specifically protect the environment. After all, the consequences of climate change are no longer limited to distant countries. They have already arrived in Europe.


Check out the documentation of Christof Henggeler's project also on Youtube.

Source: SRF DOK 


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