NKOLE NKOLE, Kalumbila
ONLY last month, Kabwe town in Central Province was named the world’s most toxic town according to pollution
experts. The experts believe that a century of lead mining in Kabwe has now earned the town its negative tag.
Over the years, there have been concerns about environmental management in the Copperbelt Province as well because of poorly- managed environmental impacts from mining in that area.
Specific concerns regard mine waste disposal facilities which still have serious biophysical environmental impact. Other concerns include that of air and water pollution resulting from mining.
In Kalumbila area of North-Western Province, Kalumbila Minerals Limited, a subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals Limited, which operates the Trident Kalumbila mine, is being deliberate about preserving the natural environment lying outside the mine’s footprint.
During a recent media tour of the mine, journalists observed various projects being run by the mine relating to its policy on environmental protection in Kalumbila district.
Kalumbila Minerals Limited environmental manager, Joseph Ngwira, said they are trying to learn from the mistakes of other mines and developing strategies to help counter the negative impact of mining.
“We are a green-field project and have a chance to change the situation going forward and we don’t want to have a negative legacy at the end of the mine life,” Mr Ngwira shared.
The intervention measures the mine has put in place go beyond just rehabilitation of the mine site but include areas outside the mine’s footprint.
For starters, the mine area has two national forests outside it: Mushingwe, on the west and Lualaba on the east, which still lie undisturbed.
“We have done a Memorandum of Understanding with the forestry department and that is going to see us protect 1, 396 square kilometres of land,” Mr Ngwira shared. “We have also introduced minimal site clearing as a policy which entails planting two seedlings for every tree cut going forward.”
The mine also has an MoU with the government concerning the protection of Musele-Matebo Game Management Area (GMA).
In terms of progressive mine rehabilitation, the mine is considering measures that have not been practised before in Zambia.
“We are looking at holistic livestock and land management. It’s a concept that was developed by Allan Savory in 1992 and it is so far working well in the countries where they have tested it,” Mr Ngwira shared.
However, the concept has only been applied in the agricultural sector for conservation farming and also rehabilitation of areas that have been degraded.
The mine wants to test the concept to see how it can contribute to mine rehabilitation.
“What that concept does is integrating animals with mining,” Mr Ngwira explained. “It is something that is new, and I would say, unthinkable but we are looking at tapping into the livestock as a resource to reverse the area that has been impacted due to mining activities.”
He said the concept had potential for areas where it has been tested and whose profile had been changed from bare land into an intact and revegitated site.
In the area of wildlife, the mine has gone beyond its footprint and done what it was not legally required to do.
Animals have been introduced within the mine area and presently, the area has 240 of them.
When the numbers go beyond the capacity within the mine’s surface rights, the animals will be transferred to Musele-Matebo Game Management area where there is enough land.
As part of its mine water management strategy, the mine created two dams, Chisola and Musanghezi that are also used by local residents as a source of fresh water and for fishing purposes.
The mine noticed a high presence of iron in the water of Kalumbila area and is looking at tackling it through the process of filtering. To this effect, filters are presently being tested in a few boreholes around Kalumbila.
To manage water quality, the mine uses a concept called water separation where fresh water is separated from water that has come in contact with the mine pit.
“That concept is called segregation resource and helps us reduce the volume of water we need to treat before releasing it to the environment,” explained Kalumbila Minerals Limited environmental monitoring officer, Chisanga Mubanga.
“We have a series of pit water control ponds where we receive water that we require to be treated and when that water collects, it does so in a common pit water control pond which we treat using our treatment plant.”
The water then goes through a further series of sedimentation ponds before it is released to the environment.
Zambia Environmental management Agency (ZEMA) spokesperson, Irene Chipili said the deliberate policy of Kalumbila Minerals Limited towards environmental protection is a demonstration of they would like mining facilities and other industries to operate.
“Members of the public might be aware that before Kalumbila Mine began operations, they conducted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which was reviewed and approved by ZEMA,” Mrs Chipili said.
She said beyond just the EIA, the agency conducts regular visits to check that the mine is operating within the approved conditions in the EIA report.
Some of the issues of concern to the agency relate to a general protection of the environment in compliance with the law, but also to ensure that issues of concern to the community and stakeholders in Kalumbila are adhered to by the mine.
“For us as a regulator, we are quite happy to see facilities adhering to license conditions, but that does not mean that we stop monitoring them,” she shared.
Additional environmental projects being run by the mine include conservation farming as local farmers are learning the benefit of farming methods which preserve the soil’s fertility and improve crop production.
“Conservation farming is one of the livelihoods that we are encouraging people in Kalumbila to adopt and practise for obvious reasons. We want to protect our environment,” Trident Foundation agriculture field supervisor, Christopher Chenga said.
Out of the different methods of agriculture, they believe conservation farming takes care of the environment as once a field is opened up, a farmer continues using that piece of land throughout their lifetime and for generations after.
He said by staying in one place, a farmer avoids cutting more trees and opening up more fields.
As the district agricultural officer for Kalumbila area, Lovemore Daka said he could not be happier to see farmers in the area embracing the benefits of conservation farming and abandoning their old harmful agricultural methods.
But it is not only farmers in Kalumbila area who have profited from the environmental policy of Kalumbila Minerals Limited.
The local fishermen of the area have witnessed their livelihoods improve as well with the mine’s support.
Initial stocking in the dam was 5,000 in 2012 and in 2015, they stocked about 30 000 fingerlings.
Fish Wildlife Monitoring Officer under Kalumbila Minerals Limited, Charles Chilengi, said they are trying to maintain good fish stock in the dams so that consumption per person can reach 12 kilogrammes per year. Presently, consumption per person stands at 5.7 kilogrammes which is quite low.
Fishing on Musanghezi dam in Kalumbila is what sustains local fisherman, Wicard Kapelembi and his family.
“We are very happy with what the mine is doing. The goodness we have found is we are able to get money from the fishing business which we use to sponsor our children to school. Our appeal is that the mine should stock this dam with more fish because the water levels in this dam are getting higher and higher.”
Effective environmental management requires understanding environmental aspects or those activities that interact with the environment in a positive or negative way, Kalumbila Minerals Limited environmental manager, Joseph Ngwira stressed.
He said the mine looked at the various environmental aspects and identified the critical impacts which it then ranked in the order of priority or risk.
The mine’s management plan was therefore based on its identified top risks which are the surface area it was disturbing by mining activities and water quality.
With all the purposeful interventions by Kalumbila Minerals Limited aimed at environmental protection, perhaps Kalumbila district can in the long term avoid the negative tag presently attached to Kabwe town.