Desertification is responsible for around a third of all threats to biodiversity, endangering not only the environment but the livelihoods of 900 million people around the world. It’s a phenomenon that afflicts both arid and non-arid regions through the effects of local activities including intensive farming, overgrazing, and forest exploitation for fuel and timber, as well as extreme weather events and climate disruption.
Little wonder that Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, has called desertification “a global threat that requires global action,” or that the UN has declared 17 June a ‘World Day to combat Desertification.’ ICMM members are working around the world to uphold Principle 7 of our Sustainable Development Framework and contribute to biodiversity conservation and integrated approaches to land-use planning.
Planting forests; rooting communities
For many years, Newmont has been operating schemes to support the communities surrounding its operations in Brong-Ahafo – ‘the breadbasket of Ghana’ – through initiatives like the Agricultural Improvement and Land Access Programme, which supports over 3,000 local farmers with training, irrigation machinery and other hardware, and to access external markets.
One initiative in 2015, saw Newmont partnering with the German international development agency –Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) – to invest around US$700,000 in the Asutifi Processing and Services Centre in Kenyasi, which aims to support local farmers, through safeguarding harvested produce and boosting its marketability. Local farmer Nana Ama Bonsu says, “contrary to fears that Newmont’s presence will bring about hunger, we have rather received a lot of training in agriculture, which has made lives better.” Through these programmes, local people become the best possible custodians of the land.
Meanwhile, in the area surrounding their Akyem mine in southern Ghana, Newmont, in consultation with the Forestry Commission, has been investing in a major reforestation programme to offset the impact of mining activities on the Ajenjua Bepo Forest Reserve. Now in its second phase, following the initial reforestation of 60 hectares, a total of 303 hectares of degraded land between the mine and the Ajenjua Bepo Forest is being recovered – a threefold replacement of the 101 hectares impacted by operational activities. Raphael Yeboah, Executive Director of the Forest Services Division, welcomed the creation of around 250 jobs in the local community, adding that the project will help the commission fulfil “its vision of leaving future generations with better, richer, and more valuable forest and wildlife resources than it inherited.”
Protecting ‘Chadmandi treasure’
In Mongolia’s South Gobi region life for nomadic herders has always been challenging. With barely 50mm annual precipitation – known locally as ‘Chadmandi treasure’ – herders have understandably been suspicious and distrustful of the region’s other big water users – mining companies that include ICMM company member Rio Tinto. Mining is vast in Mongolia, employing over 20,000 people and accounting for near one-fifth of the country’s GDP. And companies like Rio Tinto are actively using new technologies and adopting best practices to greatly reduce their water consumption.
Working alongside the International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank and a major regional economic player, Rio Tinto has also worked with local people, government representatives and over a dozen other mining companies to broker a Voluntary Code of Practice that commits all signatories to continually improve their water management, conduct operations with full transparency and accountability, and provide support for local services and infrastructure.
According to the Energy Resource’s Director for Government Relations and Permitting, Z. Sugarmaa, the code “helps the companies manage their water in the best way and disseminate their data to the public in a more understandable way.” Helps them, in short, to use ‘Chadmandi treasure’ more efficiently and equitably, and be seen to do so.
Dr Dorjsuren Dechinlkhundev, 2030 Water Resources Group Country Representative, says: “…collaboration of all stakeholders, including government, companies, non-governmental organizations, local communities, researchers, and civil society is very important. Every party has their own responsibility and role to play.”
After all, as herdsman Jargal Sumya puts it: “Water is life.”