…One of the big questions we asked was who is responsible for managing the agriculture and resources sector?
This year’s conference, ‘Mining, Agriculture and Development: Bread from Stones?’ discussed a broad range of issues arising from the nexus between the mining and agriculture industries. Delegates spent three days in Perth discussing the core question of ‘Can mining and agriculture coexist?’ This was a particularly interesting topic, as I had never heard from experts within the mining industry and had the opportunity to gain an insight into the realities of mining projects, both in Australia and Africa. The conference presented a pragmatic approach to the issues related to mining and development with discussions between broader policy issues and the practicalities involved in the mining and agriculture industries.
The conference forum led me to rethink resource usage in a development context. What do you do when you’ve discovered 23 billion tonnes of saleable natural resources in an area where agriculture is already a productive industry? (As is the case in the Beira Corridor, Mozambique) How does a resources boom fit in with the bigger picture of achieving long-term development goals? The conference addressed some of the complexities in dealing with these conundrums.
One of the big questions we asked was who is responsible for managing the agriculture and resources sector?
Of course, government will need to provide a thorough and considered policy framework. The conference panellists and delegates discussed a range of issues that policy makers might need to consider. This included long-term management goals and post-mining site rehabilitation, regulation of the resource value chain, a reassessment of current regulatory schemes and how the mining and resources sectors should be integrated. Many panellists spoke about the need to reconsider regional and local approaches. Mario Pezzini addressed the need for diversification and the development of the general economy despite natural resources booms stimulating intensive job growth and infrastructure. I also learnt about the need to build local capacities through a horizontal development of the local knowledge economies as well as the need to strengthen vertical linkages. Additionally, the former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, emphasised the need for a policy framework that implements transparent and accountable management practices. Emerson Zhou spoke about the need to characterise the role of mining companies in regional development and what the relationship between mining companies and local farmers can look like. My small group discussion raised the importance of changing shareholder mindsets to consider responsibilities beyond mines.
Another issue raised was how the mining sector affects rural livelihood. Although there are resettlement programs in place, not all are of adequate quality. Dr Florence Chenoweth spoke passionately about the need for pro-poor development schemes to adopt a right-based approach in order to recognise the inherent worth of every individual. Dr Chenoweth also spoke about the need for empowerment of local populations and equal access to resources and information through education. During the conference I had the opportunity to speak to Dr Chenoweth and I was encouraged by the fervency of her stance for equal access, especially for women. Festus Mogae’s speech about agriculture being no less important despite recent investments in the resources industry resonated with me, particularly considering small-holder farmers make up 1/3 of the world’s GDP.
Conference delegates and panellists also turned their minds to research-based issues. We discussed the need for further research into the largely informal small-scale mining sector in Africa and the kinds of regulatory measures that might be available. Additionally, research should focus on gathering evidence of the impact of mining upon agriculture and developing a holistic framework beyond Environmental Impact Assessments that considers social and economic impacts. The Agricultural Research Day was a great opportunity to here about up and coming research occurring across Australia. I was particularly inspired to hear how the projects addressed broader issues in long-term food security through practical solutions in the field. Not only this, but I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with other Young Scholars who shared their passion for sustainable agriculture and development. I would like to thank the Crawford Fund for this fantastic opportunity.