Wednesday 16 October 2013

The Impact Of Multi-National Mining Investment On Food Security In Zambia

Paul Shalala interviewing displaced farmers in Solwezi
By Paul Shalala

As a finalist of the African Story Challenge in the Agriculture and Food Security category, I submitted a story captioned above for judging.

In gathering the story, I spent time in Mazabuka and Solwezi Districts where peasant farmers have been displaced by multi-national companies that have opened mines in the area.

In Mazabuka, over 600 hundred farmers have been displaced while in Solwezi, thousands have been displaced and affected.

Below is the full story.

Zambia has the potential to be the food basket of Central and Southern Africa being blessed with fertile soils, lots of flat tillable lands and lots of rivers and dambos which can be harnessed for irrigation to supplement the adequate rains.

Peasant and small scale farmers have always contributed greatly to food security in Zambia. Even though peasant farmers only produce food for consumption, their production ensures food security at the household level.

Small scale farmers, on the other hand, produce the bulk of the staple maize crop purchased by the Food Reserve Agency and consumed at national level.

Any disturbance in terms of settlement of peasant as well as small-scale farmers affects their production levels and so affects food security at both household and national levels.

Many peasant and small-scale farmers have been displaced by mines that have opened on their ancestral lands through the investments of multinational corporations. The displaced farmers have mostly been resettled.

These resettlements, in many cases, have not been successful and have affected the farmers’ livelihoods and production and in turn affected food security.

Apart from a beautiful brand of football which made the country African champions in 2012, Zambia is synonymous with friendly people, prestine, undisturbed wildernesses with wildlife and an impressive mining industry.

Zambia’s mines have an indelible mark on the world of mining. For example Chililabombwe town boasts what used to be the deepest mine in the world and also the wettest underground mine in the world in Konkola Deep Copper Mine. Chingola town boasts of Nchanga Open Pit which is the second largest open cast mine in the world, covering nearly 30 km² and up to 4km deep.

Zambia is the World’s No. 1 emerald producer and is the largest producer of copper in Africa.  The list goes on and on.

Zambia's open-door investment policy, meant to encourage foreign capital from Multinational Corporations – usually with a lot of local compromise – has always come under criticism from observers.

The government of Zambia has courted foreign investors, offering land and tax breaks as inducements.
Investment policies are criticised for passing on the real cost of development to the poor people, who are being evicted from their ancestral lands to make way for the new prestigiousmining projects.

The investment policies have been credited with helping fuel an annual growth rate of more than five percent over the past 4 to 5 years, cutting inflation to single digits, and appreciation of the kwacha against foreign currencies. 

Displaced farmers in Mazabuka
Displaced farmers in Mazabuka meeting Government officials

In early September this year, I travelled to Mugoto Village in Mazabuka and spent a day with Moshen Chilala, a 24-year-old married young man, and his family.

Moshen is one of the peasant farmers who have been affected by the opening of Munali Nickel Mine in his childhood village.

Family life, and especially agriculture, in Mugoto area has not been the same since Munali Nickel Mine, an underground mining operation, opened.

According to Moshen, the coming of the Munali Mine has had an adverse effect on the lives of the peasant and small-scale farmers of the area.

He tells me that before the opening of the mine, he used to produce 300 bags of 90kilograms of maize but now the yield is down to less than 100 bags.

His story is shared by many other displaced farmers in Mazabuka.

One of the problems the villagers face is the low water levels in the water wells as a result of watertable receding because of the mine abstracting water in the area through a number of boreholes.

The Munali nickel mine is located approximately 60km south of Lusaka in Southern Zambia. The mine is well served by road, rail and power infrastructure as well as water supplies.

Development of the nickel deposit commenced in September 2006 following a positive Bankable Feasibility Study and receipt of the necessary government permits and approvals.

Munali Mine started full operations in mid-2008. The mine was opened on land previously occupied by peasant and small-scale farmers and used for agriculture.

Munali Nickel Mine was initially developed on 3,000 hectares of land and the mine then acquired another 2,100 hectares of land for the mine extension. Many families were displaced and these needed resettlement. This has led to much disturbance in the agriculture of the area and affected food security at the household level for these residents.

The mine produced from the time it was commissioned to 2009 and was placed on Care and Maintenance in March 2009. In Dec 2009 it reopened and attained the design throughput of 7500tonnes per month which was achieved in Sept 2010. Currently, the mine is back on care and maintenance.

Munali was 100% owned by Albidonfrom the start up to the time Albidon sold out. It is now 100% owned by Jinchuan Group, China's largest producer of nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals and a major producer of copper.

The Albidon Mine in Mazabuka District is one of only a very few nickel sulphide developments worldwide and it became the first and to date remains the only nickel mine in Zambia.

But this mine development seems to have come at a cost to the livelihoods of the local residents and their agriculture.

When the mine displaced residents, one of those affected and relocated was Mr Alfred Mwiinga. Mr Mwiinga and about 125 other farmers where moved from Mugoto to a resettlement area named RAP.

Mr Mwiinga has now been resettled to an area where he cant plant maize and produce like earlier because the land is waterlogged and cracks.

In July 2012, after a failed resettlement scheme, the residents of Mugoto area in Mazabuka dragged Albidon Mining to court for breaching the compensation agreement entered between them and the mining firm.

This was after what the residents called the mine's failure to meet its obligations, which resulted in the residents living in hazardous conditions. About 38 houses in the resettlement scheme area had been flooded in water following heavy rains.

The houses were part of the 117 units built by the mine meant to relocate 125 families earmarked for displacement following the opening of the mine. The houses had also developed cracks on the floor and walls. The mine had agreed to construct modern dwelling houses for the head of each plaintiff and other additional reasonable dwelling houses for adults and dependents, water and other vital necessities.
The residents asked the court to compel the mining company to provide 25,000,000 hectares of land and damages for inconveniencing and exposing them to harmful mining activities and exemplary and punitive damages.

At the time of making this documentary, the mine had abandoned the contruction of the clinic and school they had planned to build for the resettled farmers. There had also been efforts to re-engineer the land through drainages but this was not yet complete.

I travelled to Munali Nickel Mine on several occasions to get an interview with the mine management on this issue of resettlement but the local managers refused to be filmed without express permission from Jinchuan offices in Hong Kong.

However, a local Mine General Manager, issued a statement in which he said the company abandoned the construction of a clinic and houses due to lack of funds.

The farmers of Mugoto are not the only people to be displaced by multinational corporation investments in Zambia. In the North-Western part of Zambia, a number of large mines have been opened in the last few years.

For instance, in Solwezi district alone, three huge mines have been opened in the last 5 years. One of those mines is Kansanshi Mine,which is Africa’s biggest copper mine.

Displaced farmers in Solwezi

In mid September this year, i travelled to Solwezi District to see how the development of Kansanshi Mine has affected local farmers.

The management at Kansanshi mine refused to give a comment on the plight of the displaced farmers despite acknowledging receipt of my press querry. My phone calls were answered but no appointment was confirmed. This unfriendliness towards the media is a common trend among the big multi-national investors in the mining sector of Zambia.

I travelled to the mine in Solwezi but had to return without any footage of management speaking on the issues raised in this documentary.

But I interviewed several farmers who complained of their displacements having affected their annual maize yields.

Their complaint is that their new fields became conditioned to feriliser which they used to receive from Kansanshi mine but with the company’s failure to continue giving them fertilizer, their yield has gone down.

According to the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection, Solwezi is the second most expensive town in Zambia after the capital despite it being almost a rural town.

This could be because agriculture in the area has reduced and local farmers cannot supply enough food to meet the demand

And according to the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) Executive Director Chola Kafwabulula, yields in Solwezi and Mazabuka have gone down from 2011 to 2014 due to the displacement of the farmers by the mines.

In an interview, Mr Kafwabulula told me that peasant farmers contribute more than 80 percent of Zambia’s food security. The FRA is a government agency that stocks food to maintain food security in Zambia.

Though many factors could have contributed to this drop in agricultural productivity over the relevant years including changes in rain and distribution of farm inputs by government, we cannot rule out the loss of contribution to production of the resettled farmers.

While in Solwezi, I interviewed Council of Elders Chairman Lucas Chikoti who complained that mines were not benefiting the locals. Mr Chikoti said roads, schools and hospitals were in dilapidated state and the mines were not giving back to the communities.

He wished the mines would also compensate the displaced farmers adequately to help them go back to the pre-displacement yields.

I shared my findings of the effects of the displacements of local farmers in Mazabuka and Solwezi with the Deputy Minister of Agriculture Rodgers Mwewa. The minister showed great surprise at the situation on the ground and said he would get to the bottom of the issues I raised.

As a result of my visit to the Minister, Zambia’s President Michael Sata sent Mr Mwewa to Mazabuka to asses the situation and see what government could do to help the farmers.

Mr Mwewa visited Mugoto village and saw for himself the suffering of the people and the waterlogged land. Farmers complained to him of government neglect.

In the wake of his visit, the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute sent four scientists to Mugoto village who collected samples of the vertisol soil which is now being examined in the laboratory. Results from these tests will advise government on what agricultural activities the farmers in Mugoto can embark on.

Further, the Ministry of Agriculture in its 2014 National Budget submission has included an amount of money for the displaced farmers in Mazabuka and Solwezi as a way of sorting out their problem.

In Lusaka, I also caught up with Zambia’s Vice President Dr Guy Scott who is a former Agriculture Minister. In an impromptu interview, he showed great surprise at the situation in Mazabuka and directed the Munali Nickel Mine management to compensate the farmers.

The Mugoto farmers’ fields need re-engineering to avoid flooding when rains return. However in the fields with vertisol soils that crack massively this may not improve matters. The farmers may need complete relocation. Their social lives need attention too. 

The construction of the clinic and school which has stalled for two years needs resumption as the displaced farmers ealk over 20 kilometers from their new places to their old land to access medical and education services..

Impact of my story

This story brought out the sufferings of the peasant farmers at the hands of the multinational mining companies in two provinces. As a result of my story, Zambia’s President Michael Sata sent his Deputy Minister of Agriculture Rodgers Mwewa to Mazabuka to asses the problem. Mr Mwewa reported back to the head of state and below are the actions that followed the publication of my story:

In January, 2014, engineers from the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit set camp in Mugoto were they have started constructing a huge dam for the displaced farmers. It will be used for irrigation and source of drinking water for both animals and the displaced farmers.

The Mazabuka District Council has allocated part of the 2013 Constituency Development Fund  to the displaced farmers of Mugoto to construct a breeding area for their animals. In my story, the farmers had complained of losing their animals due to lack of extension services, lack of good pasture and lack of a breeding center.

Government has now put a budgetary allocation to the displaced farmers in the 2014 National Budget to cater for the displaced farmers.

Another impact is the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute sending scientists to Mazabuka to collect samples of the vertisol soil and subjecting them to laboratory tests which will advise the farmers and government on what crops or agricultural activity they can employ in the waterlogged and cracked soils where they have been relocated.

This story was also aired simultaneously on TV2 and ZNBC TV on Morning Live program on 25 September, 2013. The Youtube link for the seven minutes in-depth video report is here


This story helped me win Second Prize at the 2014 Africa Fact Checking Media Awards held in Nairobi, Kenya on 14 November, 2014. The official announcement is here: 

This story was nominated for the 2013 African Story Challenge Media Awards in the Agriculture and Food Security category and was produced with support from the African Media Initiative. I was a finalist for the awards held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in September, 2013.

The story also helped me win a scholarship to attend and cover the Second High Level Summit of the Africa-EU Energy Partnership held at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in February, 2014.