The Mpumalanga Winter Wheat Pilot imagines a province after coal

posted: 04/03/2022

The Mpumalanga Winter Wheat Pilot imagines a province after coal

More than 80% of South Africa’s coal resources are found in Mpumalanga, which places the province at the centre of power generation in the country. Mining, as a result, is one of its major sectors. After this, other prominent industries include agriculture, manufacturing and tourism.

Local communities depend on mining operations, including those run by Glencore, for employment and for local development and services. But in the decades to come, many of Mpumalanga’s coal mines will close. With a population of nearly 5 million people to consider, it is important that these mining operations consider how the province’s economy will shift to other industries.

The Mpumalanga Winter Wheat Pilot is looking into whether former mining sites and mine water could be used to grow and irrigate a range of crops. It is also exploring how yields could be improved, and whether food availability and local employment could be strengthened.

Currently, several partners including Business for Development, Glencore, Umsimbithi, the Impact Catalyst, the International Council on Mining and Metals, and the Mine Water Coordinating Body, are joining forces to develop pilot projects on small farms. Through careful planning, strong community engagement and training, the pilots are trying to prove that the local economy can be diversified. It doesn’t have to depend on mining. 

The first pilot started in April 2021 and ran until January 2022 and experimented with a variety of winter wheat. The land used was provided by Wonderfontein Colliery and included two sites next to it that are owned by the community. The pilot confirmed that winter wheat can be grown in Mpumalanga successfully, and that rehabilitated mine land and mine water can be used to grow and irrigate this important crop.