Mines destroy Mpumalanga agriculture

Mining activities in Mpumalanga could take over 1 000ha of agricultural land out of food production.

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Mining activities in Mpumalanga could take over 1 000ha of agricultural land out of food production.

Speaking at Agri SA’s annual congress recently, Koot Claassen, president of Mpumalanga Agriculture, warned that the province is responsible for a quarter of the maize production in South Africa, but this will go to ruins if mining continues.

“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.

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He lamented that mining companies use farm roads and destroy them in the process. “Maize can’t be harvested because of the huge rocks that end up in the lands after blasting at the mines. Mining pollutes water and air, destroys topsoil, causes erosion and acid rain and leaves dust and soot on the crops.”

Claassen said there are serious problems with law enforcement on mines. “The Department of Mineral Resources oversees the environmental impact assessment process, but it is not objective,” he pointed out.

“Most mines in Mpumalanga don’t have water licences, but this is a lawful prerequisite for mining. Over 90% of the mines don’t rehabilitate the land when they’re done mining because they are bankrupt.” Dr Koos Pretorius, director of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, cited a study on a Mpumalanga farm after a mining company had rehabilitated the land.

“The study found that before the land was mined, the average plant density was 35 000 plants/ha and average yield was 7,99t/ha,” he reported. “Afterwards, the plant density was 22 000 plants/ha and the average yield was 2,64t/ha.” “Coal is found under high potential and low potential soils. Why mine under high potential soils, which we can’t rehabilitate, and leave the coal under low potential soils, which can’t be farmed economically?”

Pretorius said that all of the Highveld’s high potential areas are under mining application. “These are the soils which provide food during the drier years. If this is all destroyed then where will the production come from?” Claassen worries that this situation is spilling over to other provinces.

“Farmers don’t have the knowledge when it comes to mineral rights. They don’t know what to do when faced with excellent lawyers who show up on the farm and talk them out of their land and minerals.” He concluded that environmental groups and farmer organisations should work together to fight the mines, and involve the media, both local and international, to garner support. – Lindi van Rooyen

Agricultural land that has been mined and rehabilitated loses its ability to produce yields as high as those it reached before mining. This farm in Mpumalanga went from producing nearly 8t/ha of maize to 2,64t/ha of maize after rehabilitation.