RECENTLY, I read with great enthusiasm an article entitled, ‘Diesel fuel from trees’ by the Chamber of Mines that a unique species of tree (the Pongamia tree) from India that can produce diesel fuel and other valuable by-products has been successfully planted on an area of disused mine-land in Chingola. The project is also said to be environmental world-first.
In the 90s I was one of the senior supervisors who carried out metallurgical operations in this area. We quickly and religiously reclaimed the copper containing materials in the tailings dams using high pressure water guns and treated the reclaimed materials at the Tailings Leach Plant. We would thereafter rehabilitate the reclaimed areas preparing the land for any other appropriate use in future. It is good now to see that the Pongamia project has come up in this area.
From the article, I pick out the following as the benefits of the project:
• Disused mine-land consisting of 700 hectares of overburden (waste rock) and tailings (also known as mine dumps) – has been put to productive use.
• Planting of 400,000 of the trees over the next three years will significantly contribute to the carbon cycle.
• The trees are expected to produce some two and a half million litres of diesel fuel a year.
• Taking unproductive land and making it productive.
• Creating the much-needed local employment.
• The Pongamia tree grows well in arid conditions of intense heat and sunlight, and will even take root in sandy or rocky soil.
• Its thick foliage provides shade that keeps the soil from drying out; and its roots infuse nitrogen back into the soil, producing rich nutrients.
• The pods (seeds) that grow on the tree can be harvested and treated to produce a range of useful products (fuel, flammable gas, charcoal substitute, organic fertiliser, natural pesticides and cattle-feed).
These benefits are vast and wide and can benefit our country immensely. I want, therefore, to ask the three concerned ministries of Land, Energy and Land to take full interest in this project and study it with a view to seeing how it can be expanded to a nation-wide scale.