Land Degradation Research Priorities

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Photo Credit: Nosiseko Mtati
Photo Credit: Nosiseko Mtati

On 15-16 September 2019 South Africa's Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries met with researchers at Diep-in-die-Berg, Pretoria, for the 4th Biodiversity Research and Evidence Indaba. The focus this year was on land degradation and its causes. The annual Indabas provide government and social partners with research evidence from the field, and insights into priority research to include in policy frameworks.

Prof Rosenberg shared research on Green Skills for Coal Mining which she conducted in 2015 with Prof Heila Lotz-Sisitka (ELRC), Dr Presha Ramsarup (Wits), Dr Mucha Togo (UNISA) and Mr Andani Mphinyane (Rhodes graduate). The business model of mining companies results in the absence of proper rehabiitation and remediation of land degraded by mining activities. Many companies move on, sell or unbundle before compulsary rehabilitation has been completed. This has resulted in 6000 abandoned and derelict mines across the country (finding by the Centre for Environmental Rights). By law, companies have to prove adequate funding for rehabilitation before receiving the license to mine. Prof Rosenberg pointed to the job creation potential in mine rehabilitation, and the potential for South Africa with its strong science community, to be a world leader in remediation technology. Several universities already conduct rehabilitation training and remediation research. The remaining research priority is the social learning needed to change the 'lock-in' of the old mining model, to one which releases the funding for full-scale rehabilitation and rehabilitation. She had also raised this in the NEDLAC Jobs Forum in 2018, and it was a focus at the subsequent Presidential Job Summit, resulting in the following commitment in the Presidential Job Summit Framework Agreement (P.43):

“It has been agreed that challenges with the financial provisions for mining rehabilitation will be resolved in an engagement between Department of Mineral Resources, Department of Environmental Affairs and Department of Water and Sanitation”.

Prof Rosenberg called on the Department and its partners to prioritise this work and to include the essential social learning component, without which it may be difficult to realise the tremendous potential of tackling 6000 sites - cleaning up the water, restoring the land and restoring the dignity of residents who could be doing decent work and investing in the development potential of their environments. "I was happy to meet people already engaged in rehabilitation work after the talk", says Prof Rosenberg. This includes a community-based restoration group led by indigenous healers, who now run training, nurseries and recreational sites on a former dump site.