Can Africa’s Mining Infrastructure Be Used to Help Farmers?

Can Africa’s Mining Infrastructure Be Used to Help Farmers?

The modern development of farming in Africa has limitless possibilities using the infrastructure, technology and wealth that comes with mining, according to an ABC report.

Mining infrastructure such as rail, road, power and water can be transformational for subsistence farmers, said David Doepel with the Africa Australia Research Forum.

It’s a concept that’s far from new, having been employed in Australia for more than a century, Doepel said.

The rail line and the water pipeline from Perth to the Goldfields opened up the wheatbelt which is now one of the largest wheat- growing regions in the world, according to the report.

“There probably wouldn’t be a wheatbelt the way that it is now if it wasn’t for the discovery of gold in Kalgoorlie,” Doepel said.

And now it’s working in parts of Africa.

The Crawford Fund has joined forces with the Africa Australia Research Forum based at Murdoch University in Perth. A large delegation from Africa is in Western Australia to look at some of Australia’s mining-agriculture projects. They want to piggyback on the mining boom that’s underway in Africa so their own farmers can improve agricultural output, the report said.

“We’re seeing that in action in the Beira Corridor in Mozambique,” Doepel said. “The country has been very deliberate about developing an agricultural corridor along the mining corridor between the coal area inland and the port at the coast.

“This actually mirrors the Western Australian experience of the development of (gold mining town) Kalgoorlie.”

Hudson Mthega is a mining engineer from the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa.

He sees limitless possibilities for the modern development of farming in Africa using the infrastructure, technology and wealth that comes with mining.

“What’s needed are discussions with mining companies about the planning and design of their projects, including the infrastructure, and ask for them to make it slightly larger than their requirements,” Mthega said. “They can share with the other sectors of the economy like agriculture, which can’t afford to build it.

“Also, with gas and coal for energy production, these are inputs that go into making fertilizer which is very critical for productivity.”

In sub-Saharan Africa farmers use about eight kilograms per hectare of fertilizer whereas in developed countries like Australia, they around 200 kilograms per hectare.

“We need to look at everything when it comes to making the most of the interactions that can happen between mining and farming in Africa,” he said.

The Australia-Africa Universities Network is a group of leading universities in Australia and Africa, connecting researchers and academics through institutional partnerships to address challenges facing both continents.

Other mining-agriculture projects in Australia include: Citic Pacific: the Chinese-owned iron ore miner operates on a pastoral lease in the Pilbara in northern Western Australia running a free range cattle business, Mardie Beef; Alcoa: the bauxite miner and aluminium refiner has a major beef operation and a large breeder-cattle herd on rehabilitated mine land; Rio Tinto: the world’s largest iron ore miner is using excess water from mines to grow hay crops in arid rangelands areas; FMG: the new iron ore miner has built 400 kilometers of rail line through pastoral cattle country and is fencing the length to keep livestock out. The company contracts local station workers to undertake the work.