Mining versus agriculture

These two industries in Mpumalanga are at war

Mpumalanga is currently struggling to find common ground between the mining and agricultural sectors
Tug of war.jpg

The problem is that both are vital to the country’s growth so neither can be eliminated as a threat to the other. The question is whether or not they can co-exist, an answer that does not have a definitive answer, though it would seem that the mining industry is winning.

Coal mined in Mpumalanga is used to pro- vide about three-quarters of the country’s energy. However, it is also known for its grain, maize, soya beans and dry beans farming.

With household food security a problem, agriculture has become more important.

The global population is expected to reached approximately nine billion people by 2050. Mining uses a lot of the resources like water and electricity because it is an extractive industry, and provides jobs to

thousands but agriculture provides food for the country, and employment to farm workers. According to Miningmx, there are 60 mines in the province which operate on 13% of the river catchment areas and productive farms.

If pending mining permits and prospecting licences were granted, that would mean 80% of the region’s area would be taken up by mining companies.

These same areas are suitable and produce soya beans, maize and dry bean farming (soya beans 51%; maize 24%; and dry beans 23%) are produced in the area. The pressing issue is that if mining companies win this land war, food prices will further increase and food insecurity will become a reality.

And, post mining, any agricultural yields would not have the same potential as before, not to mention road infrastructure, water infrastructure and electricity infrastructure – farms in the province could be destroyed. In an article published by Farmers Weekly in October 2011, Koot Claassen, president of Mpumalanga Agriculture said: “About 13,7% of the land in Mpumalanga is currently being mined, 40% has prospecting applications and 54% of the land has already been mined.

“The impact of this on agriculture and the economy will only get bigger,” he warned.

Adding to this he said many mines at the time did not have water licences never mind that many of the mines that could be rehabilitated, are not and that there are more than likely illegal mining operations taking place. In an earlier report in 2011 from Engineering News, Eskom said 15 more coal mines are needed in Mpumalanga to meet the demand for energy in 2015.

That is a whopping two billion tonnes. And it has been reported that the quality of coal being mined in the province was not nearly as top quality as previous coal that was mined, which begs the question, why are coal mining companies not looking elsewhere?

On the State of the environment in South- Africa website, which featured mining in Mpumalanga, it states quite aptly the crux of the issue that agriculture has with mining in the province.

“Apart from the demand for such non-re- newable natural resources, other typical environmental impacts associated with the mining sector include the loss of biodiver- sity due to the transformation of natural habitats and ecosystems. Mining processes usually require massive amounts of water and this creates a huge demand on avail- able water resources. Furthermore, surface and groundwater pollution often results from acid mine drainage when soil and rock overburden or waste rock and tailings are exposed to air and water and through chemical processes, release large quantities of iron and sulphate into a solution which produces an acidic solution known as acid mine drainage.

“Other impacts include air pollution, noise pollution and the visual impact of large open cast mining operations.”

The challenge remains that while both industries are important to our survival, one is going to have to relinquish control over the land.

Food security is a major problem, as is coal production for energy.

However, we live in a world where clean energy is a more appealing alternative, perhaps the agriculture industry will win this one. We can only hope.



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Issue 46


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