Mining and agriculture are directly linked through agriculture’s dependence on mined inputs, land and water resources, and workers. They are also indirectly linked where mining firms have improved infrastructure in a way that supports agricultural development. The outcomes of this interaction appear mixed. There is evidence that agriculture is growing in some areas as a result of mining and declining in others, depending on local circumstances.
Modern agriculture depends upon mined products used in crop fertilizers and animal feed supplements. Plants rely on three essential nutrients: nitrogen; potassium, and phosphorus. While nitrogen is renewable and can be captured from the air, potassium and phosphorus are mined and applied through fertilizer where they are not present in adequate quantities in the soil.[1-3] Canada is the world’s largest producer of potash, a generic term for mined minerals and chemicals containing potassium. Phosphorus is also mined and is used not only in fertilizer, but also as a supplement in animal feed. Other mined supplements used in livestock and poultry feeds include selenium and zinc.
At the local level, mining and agriculture may also be linked through their use of land and water resources.
The total amount of land used in mining is relatively small compared with agriculture. For example, in the United States, agriculture uses 52% of land area whereas mining disturbs 0.02-0.1% of land. In Canada, 0.01% of land has been used for mining compared with 7% of land used for agriculture. In Peru, although 12% of the total land is under mining concessions, only 0.08% of the country’s total land is being mined1 . In Brazil, less than 0.45% of the total land is under mining concessions (Geologist Paulo Riveiro de Santana, Ombudsman, Department Nacional de Produção Mineral, personal communication December, 2011) and in Australia mining sites disturbed less than 0.26% of total land mass.
Despite the small footprint of mining as a fraction of total land use, conflict can arise at the local level where mining is perceived as competing with agriculture and livestock grazing or other traditional land uses.[12, 13] Displacement and resettlement of farmers from mining areas has also caused conflict where comparable land could not be purchased or share-croppers and farmers without land title were excluded.
Conflict may also arise between agriculture and mining over access to water resources. Concerns relate to both the total amount of water used, especially in areas with limited fresh water resources, and changes in water quality due to mining activities. The total amount of water used by mining in Canada is difficult to estimate since water is recycled, gained and lost through subsurface flows, lost through evaporation, and discharged after treatment. In Australia, the minerals sector uses less than 3% of national consumptive water.[16, p.6]
Quality concerns regarding mining’s use of water are more complex to assess. Mining operations in Canada and overseas must comply with environmental legislation that normally requires an assessment of potential environmental impacts, and a plan for mitigation or remediation of these impacts prior to a mine being permitted. In Canada, water discharged from mines during operations and following mine closure must also meet federal water quality standards. However, the capacity of developing countries to enforce environmental legislation may be questionable and poor communication on the part of mining companies has led to mistrust in some areas.
Current large-scale mining is blamed (sometimes unfairly) for pollution generated by other activities on or near mining sites. For example, Artisanal & Small Scale Mining (ASM) is increasingly located alongside large-scale mining concessions, and often operates without environmental safeguards, which leads to sedimentation, Acid Rock Drainage (ARD), and pollution. The current best practices of large-scale foreign-owned mines in Africa are less damaging to the environment than subsistence farming, poverty-related deforestation, and communal pasturing. Finally, abandoned and old mining sites that would not meet today’s more stringent requirements can continue to pollute long after closure, and appear to be the largest source of mine-related water pollution in North America.
Despite local allegations of water pollution, reputable studies have failed to demonstrate that large-scale mining practices are significantly damaging water quality. A review of the impacts of 12 large and medium mines in five countries found that despite local complaints of pollution, none of the mines studied showed evidence of substantial environmental damage. Furthermore, this study showed that large mines made substantial efforts to minimize environmental impacts and, where incidents occurred, were quick to respond.
Mining may adversely affect agriculture indirectly when workers switch from one industry to the other. Farmers may engage in artisanal mining seasonally, to supplement farm incomes, or leave farming for mining altogether. In Africa, the declining viability of agriculture has led to a large decrease in agrarian activities and increased mining activities. The discovery of large mineral deposits and the perceived income opportunities they represent can also lead to the abandonment of farmland.[21, p.17]
Agriculture may also be the beneficiary of improvements in infrastructure supported by mining operations. For example, new roads constructed for the Yanacocha Peru mining operation decreased the time it took for farmers to reach markets as well as decreasing their transport costs. Rural road construction and improvements have also been shown to improve agricultural wages, decrease fertilizer costs, and increase crop prices and output. Local processing of agricultural goods may also be enhanced by improved access to water, electrification, and improved sanitation.
Finally, mining companies may support agricultural expansion and diversification through Corporate Social Responsibility programs. For example, Newmont Ghana Gold’s Ahfo Agribusiness Growth Initiative (AGGI) has provided training to 1,368 farmers to increase agricultural productivity and farm business skills. TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc. has supported the development of a commercial vegetable farm that increased local incomes and improved local food security. Mining companies may also work with farmers to decrease the adverse environmental impact of mining on farming. For example, Xtrata works with vineyard operators near its Bulga Coal Mine in Australia to ensure that underground mining does not destroy viticulture and water resources.[24, pp.15-16]
Despite their linkages, the impact of mining on agriculture has not been extensively studied and available results are mixed. A study by Mishra and Pujari (2008) on mining on villages in India found that agricultural productivity decreased due to mining activities, but livelihoods improved as workers shifted to mining. An International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) study suggests that mining complements agriculture, and that there are growing synergies between these sectors near Ancash, Peru and BHP Billiton’s Antamina mine. In Argentina, the amount of land under cultivation in communities near Barrick’s Veladero mine increased between 2001 and 2007 despite mine construction and operation.
Author’s calculation using Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] (2011). The World Factbook: Peru. Accessed November 19, 2011 from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pe.html.
Cuncashca Peru is a remote community of 64 farming families near Barrick’s Pierina mine. Pierina was an open-pit gold mine that operated from 1996 to 2010. During this time Barrick voluntarily initiated a number of corporate social responsibility projects to extend the benefits of mining to the community including improving access to clean water, health care, housing and education.[28, pp.96-97]
The Cuncashca Business Development Project was developed with community involvement and used agriculture, animal husbandry, dairy production, and entrepreneurial training to support agri-business development. Project components included business and agricultural training, improving water infrastructure, and building a new dairy and processing plant.
This project has led to a number of positive results for farmers and supported a shift from subsistence farming towards income generation. The average monthly household income increased from $46 in 2002 to $166 in 2008. The dairy plant now produces 4,200 liters of milk per month, and cheese production increased 400% between 2005 and 2007. Water usage also declined by 40% thanks to conservation techniques, and the rate of chronic malnutrition amongst children under three decreased from 46% to 38% between 2002 and 2008.
1Canada, Natural Resources Canada [NRC]. Potash. Canadian Minerals Yearbook 2008 [cited 2011 November 4]; Available from: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/minerals-metals/business-market/canadian-minerals-yearbook/2008-review/commodity-reviews/3146. 2Pearce, F. The Nitrogen Fix: Breaking a Costly Addiction. Yale Environment 360, 2009. 3Pearce, F. Phosphate: A Critical Resource Misused and Now Running Low Yale Environment 360, 2011. 4Soil Quality Institute, Phosphorus in Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture. 5United States, US Geological Survey [USGS] Do We Take Minerals for Granted? 2011 [cited 2011 October 6]; Available from: http://minerals.usgs.gov/granted.html. 6Lubowski, R.N., et al., Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2002, 2002, US Department of Agriculture. 7Arbogast, B.F., D.H. Knepper., and W.H. Langer, The Human Factor in Mining Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Geological Survey, Editors. 2000, US Geological Survey [USGS]. 8Canada, Natural Resources Canada [NRC], Background Paper on Land Access, Protected Areas and Sustainable Development, 1998, NRC. 9Harker, B., et al., 7. Land Use Practices and Changes - Agriculture, in Threats to Water Availability in Canada 2008, Environment Canada. 10Salazar, M. Peru's Highlands Lack Legal Protection. Tierramérica 2010 11Minerals Council of Australia, The Australian Minerals Industry and the Australian Economy, in March 20102010, Minerals Council of Australia. 12Apoyo Consultoria, Study of the Yanacocha Mine's Economic Impacts: Final Report, 2009, Prepared for the International Financial Corporation. 13Mitchell, P., Mining and economic growth: The case for Ghana and Tanzania. South African Journal of International Affairs, 2006. 13(2): p. 55-67. 14International Council on Mining & Metals, UNCTAD, and World Bank, Synthesis of Four Country Case Studies, in The Challenge of Mineral Wealth:Using resource endowments to foster sustainable development 2006, International Council on Mining & Metals [ICCM]. 15Ptacek, C., et al., 9. Land-Use Practices and Changes - Mining and Petroleum Production, in Threats to Water Availability in Canada2008, Environment Canada. 16Minerals Council of Australia, Mineral Council of Australia: 2011-2012 Pre-Budget Submission, 2011, Minerals Council of Australia. 17Communities and Small-Scale Mining (CASM), International Finance Corporation‘s Oil, Gas and Mining Sustainable Community Development Fund (IFC CommDev), and International Council on Mining & Metals [ICMM], Working together: how large-scale miners can engage with artisanal and small-scale miners, 2009, ICMM: www.icmm.org. 18Frick, C., Direct Foreign Investment and the Environment: African Mining Sector, in Conference on Foreign Direct Investment and the Environment: Lessons to be Learned from the Mining Sector, OECD Global Forum on International Investment, Editor 2002, OECD: Paris. 19World Bank and International Finance Corporation, Large Mines and Local Communities: Forging Partnerships, Building Sustainability, 2002, International Finance Corporation. 20Banchirigah, S.M. and G. Hilson, De-agrarianization, Re-agrarianization and Local Economic Development: Re-orientating Livelihoods in African Artisanal Mining Communities. Policy Sciences, 2010. 43(2): p. 157-180. 21Hentschel, T., et al., Global Report on Artisanal & Small-Scale Mining, 2002, Minerals, Mining and Sustainable Development [MMSD]. 22International Council on Mining & Metals [ICMM]. Case Study: Newmont's Agribusiness Initiative Supports Local Communities. 2008 [cited 2011 November 16]; Available from: http://www.icmm.com/page/2222/newmonts-agribusiness-initiative-supports-local-communities. 23TVI Resource Development (Phils.) Inc. Sustainability Via Vegetable Farming. 2010 [cited 2011 June 29]; Available from: http://www.tviphilippines.com/articlet.php?id=348. 24Australia Government, Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, Community Engagement and Development, 2006, Commonwealth of Australia. 25Mishra, P.P. and A.K. Pujari, Impact of Mining on Agricultural Productivity: A Case Study of the Indian State of Orissa. South Asia Economic Journal, 2008. 9(2): p. 337-350. 26International Council on Mining & Metals [ICMM], Peru: Country Case Study, in The Challenge of Mineral Wealth: Using resource endowments to foster sustainable development 2007. 27Consultora Malthus Desarrollo Humano en Zonas Mineras: el Caso de la Provincia de San Juan de Argentina y de la Mina Veladero. 2009. 28Australia Government, Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, A Guide to Leading Practice Sustainable Development in Mining, 2011, Commonwealth of Australia. 29International Council on Mining & Metals [ICMM], Barrick Boosts Farminig Skills in Cuncashca in Good Practice2008, www.icmm.com. 30Gold, B., From Subsistence Farming to Agribusiness: The Cuncashca story, in Beyond Borders: A Barrick Gold Quarterly Report on Responsible Mining 2008, Barrick Gold. 31Khandker, S.R., Z. Bakht, and G.B. Koolwal, The Poverty Impact of Rural Roads: Evidence from Bangladesh, in World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3875 2006, World Bank.
Mining has the potential to shape and affect economies directly and indirectly. Mining brings employment, government revenues, and opportunities for economic growth and diversification. However, market fluctuations, economic and public institutions, and resource revenues can present challenges in converting natural resource wealth into sustainable economic growth and development.
This page will explore how mining affects the economy and answer common questions.
Australia Government, Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (2011). A Guide to Leading Practice Sustainable Development in Mining, Commonwealth of Australia.
United States, US Geological Survey [USGS] Do We Take Minerals for Granted? 2011
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