We all know that mining activities can disrupt the land around mining sites. But how much do we know about the lengths that some mining companies go to rehabilitate this land? 

This year, First Quantum Minerals (FQM) has committed to rehabilitating over 35 hectares around Kansanshi Mine in Solwezi. The company has also nearly doubled the number of trees that it will plant – from 18,000 last year, to a whopping 30,000 this season.

But what made FQM decide to embark on a giant green mission of this scale? 

“Trees take a very long time to grow,” explains Arnold Malambo, Environmental Manager at Kansanshi Mine, adding: “Our desire is that forests which have been disturbed within our area of operations be fully re-established at the time of mine closure.” 

Planting seeds for the next generation

Preparing for a mine’s closure years before it reaches the end of its life is part and parcel of mining, although mining companies don’t all view this responsibility equally, or commit the same resources to it. Forward planning is part of Kansanshi’s DNA. In fact, one of the company’s goals is to leave communities and land in and around its catchment area in a better position than the miner originally found them. 

“When the cutting of trees and clearance of vegetation at the mine site is required, it goes through a rigorous approval process,” explains Mr Malambo. “One condition is to strip and store the topsoil for land rehabilitation at a later time. This comes at a significant cost, but is very important to us.” 

It’s a proactive approach that – like training locals to set up businesses in diverse sectors that don’t depend on mining, or re-populating habitats where zebra, impala, and wildebeest thrived before poaching got out of hand – is typical of Kansanshi and the kind of legacy that it hopes to leave behind in Solwezi and its surrounds.

“Preserving and maintaining nature’s ecosystems, aside from combating the effects of adverse climate change, hold great benefits for communities – among them food security and water retention,” says Mr Malambo. “Trees and grass play a vital role in soil conservation, preventing erosion, and promoting fertility, which is essential for sustainable agriculture.”

Somebody’s got to do it

Speaking at an event to mark Kansanshi’s seasonal tree planting initiative, North-Western Provincial Minister Robert Lihefu said: “Government firmly believes that tree planting is one of the most effective mitigations against climate change.” Tree planting also plays a part in ensuring food security, he added, because trees help to maintain a balance in our ecosystems. 

Kansanshi Mine has also branched out into agroforestry (the practice of integrating trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems), and counts fruit tree-growing initiatives in the chiefdoms of Kapijimpanga and Mumena among its efforts to promote economic diversification and environmental sustainability. “These efforts will not only improve environmental conditions, but will also create numerous business opportunities for local residents,” said Minister Lihefu.  

HRH Chief Mumena (left) with Kansanshi Mining Plc Environmental Manager Arnold Malambo (right)

Progressive mine rehabilitation through tree planting is one small part of Kansanshi’s sustainability and social responsibility strategies. So far, FQM has invested over US$6 million in its environmental protection programmes, which are designed to reduce the carbon impact of its mining activities on the environment and communities.

“We recognise that our activities may lead to disturbance of land,” says Mr Malambo. “If not remedied, this could have an impact on the broader environment within our catchment area.”

Future forward

If we’re going to preserve Zambia’s biodiversity, we all need to be more forward-thinking. Minister Lihefu called for the newly-planted trees to be protected so that, in time, they can bear fruit (so to speak), providing honey, caterpillars, mushrooms, and various other non-wood forest products for local communities.

Protecting the earth’s natural ecosystems is a task of gargantuan proportions, and working together is the only way we stand a chance. At times, it may feel like one person’s or even one company’s efforts are little more than a drop in the ocean. But even the densest swathe of bush is made up of individual plants. And every single tree – standing one beside the other – contributes to a forest.

See also: Shouldn’t every day be Farmers’ Day?