Throughout history, poor environmental and resource stewardship has contributed to societal collapse. It is also common that societies fail to recognize the depletion of natural resources until it is too late. Currently, Zambia is experiencing the discovery of minerals in various parts of the country. While this presents exciting prospects for the mining sector, it is crucial to consider the long-term implications on Zambia’s agriculture and food security. The Sulphur dioxide and mine effluent discharge have lasting effects on air and water. Additionally, the extensive digging of ditches under mining activities render the land nearly unsuitable for agriculture.
Mining contributes to Zambia’s economic growth and provides a total contribution, both directly and indirectly to tax revenues of about 21%. However, as Zambia’s minerals are exhaustible natural resources, their extraction should not come at the expense of land that has potential use for agriculture. With minerals being discovered across the country, the unfortunate consequence is the earmarking of agriculturally suitable land for mining purposes. This practice jeopardizes the future of Zambia’s agricultural sector and the ability to feed its growing population.
The importance of this issue becomes even more evident when we look at the examples of mines that have faced closure in Zambia, leaving behind environmental problems and limited agricultural possibilities. One such case is the closure of the Chambishi Metals, which operated for many years before it was put on care and maintenance in 2020 due to significant operational challenges. The closure of Chambishi metals resulted in the loss of 200 jobs and economic downturn in the surrounding communities, highlighting the vulnerability of a region dependent on mining. One also can look at the air and water pollution suffered by the residents of kankoyo township due to the Mufulira mines which faced significant environmental challenges, including acidification of water sources and contamination of the surrounding land. As the mines deplete resources, they leave behind a legacy of environmental degradation, rendering the affected land unsuitable for agriculture and posing long-term risks to the local ecosystem.
These examples serve as cautionary tales, emphasizing the need for proactive environmental awareness to prevent a similar fate for other regions in Zambia. If the country prioritizes unsustainable mining over agriculture and fails to protect its fertile land, it risks repeating the mistakes of the past. It is imperative to learn from these experiences and prioritize the long-term well-being of the nation.
As mineral resources deplete over time, Zambia must ask itself: What will remain of its land? Will it be reduced to barren wastelands, unfit for agricultural activities? The answer lies in proactive measures that strike a balance between mining objectives and the preservation of fertile land. The government must act now to ensure that Zambia’s agricultural sector remains strong and resilient. Preserving Zambia’s agricultural land is not just about ensuring food security; it is about securing the livelihoods of farmers and building a sustainable future for generations to come. One hundred years from now minerals may have exhausted but land well preserved can be used. By valuing and protecting the land, Zambia can maintain agricultural self-sufficiency.
To achieve sustainable development, Zambia must review mining policies, promoting responsible extraction that considers long-term environmental impact. Investing in sustainable agriculture is also crucial, empowering farmers with modern techniques, efficient irrigation, and eco-friendly methods. Aligning mining policies with long-term resource realities is essential, reevaluating prioritization of mining over agriculture-friendly areas. A holistic approach is needed, recognizing the value of fertile land in sustaining food production and ensuring future food security. This way, Zambia can safeguard its agricultural resources, enabling the nation to feed its people even after mineral depletion, through reassessed mining regulations and sustainable farming practices.
Furthermore, diversification is critical for Zambia. There is need for more investment in sectors beyond mining and agriculture. This could involve creating a conducive environment for entrepreneurship and innovation, facilitating access to financing and mentorship programs, and promoting a culture of innovation.