Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Kamwendo: Australia is leading the way in agromining – and now South Africa is being prodded to engage in hot pursuit.
Creamer: For 100 years plus we have been mining for metals, now we are told we must farm for metals. This was given to us by a visiting professor. He is the South African born Stephen Haggerty.
He flew in here from Florida International University and he looked at our eucalyptus trees that are sucking up so much water on our golf courses, he said, guys don’t you know in Australia they have got agromining. They are using these eucalyptus trees to suck up gold.
They are doing that in the Kalgoorlie area, that was where there was a gold rush many years ago. They have residual gold deposits. This gold deposit is so small now that you can’t use current metallurgical process and concentration process to actually recover that gold. So, what they are doing is that they are planting eucalyptus trees and apparently these eucalyptus trees suck up the gold quite substantially and it goes into the bark and leaves.
They then harvest the bark and leaves and incinerate it and they get themselves some gold nuggets. Now, they are not only doing that with gold, they are also doing that with nickel. In the same degraded mining areas where there is residual of nickel, but have been mined out by conventional means, and there is no technology available to actually extract the remaining nickel, they plant a species of plant that was used by the Swedes in the Middle Ages to try and demarcate where copper was.
I am told by Prof Haggerty, who was born in these parts in Germiston, but is now big in the United States, saying when we discovered our copperbelt in Central Africa, we used the same species of plant to signal that there was copper there. He is saying now the Australians get hold of the same species and they are putting it into their mined nickel areas and these plants are siphoning up the nickel.
When they harvest this, they get quite substantial pieces of nickel. We see that in South Africa, we haven’t been fast asleep here as he thinks we have been and at Mintek there is a bright young geologist, Tshiamo Legoale, and she has been studying this. She is part of the small business division of Mintek which is a State-owned research enterprise in Randburg.
She actually has now won an international award. What she has been proposing is that we use wheat, to grow wheat on our mine dumps and we have got quite a lot of material there in the form of dumps in around Joburg as well, and that it has been proven also absorbs the gold.
The whole of the plant can then be harvested, because there is gold in the total plant, but the seeds are not affected. This is also a good thing, because you can then use the seeds afterwards to go into conventional farming. They have been considering this around mines for some time.
We also see that the Chamber of Mines this week went into backing rooftop agriculture, where they hosted this idea of hydroponic development of vegetables and produce on the rooftops of Joburg where you can do this in very small areas and get big production of product.
Apparently, they have already had a commercial sale from the growth of this. People have been encouraged to do agriculture on the rooftops. We see that agromining is becoming something big, but also using available rooftop space.
Kamwendo: This week’s general election in Liberia will have a strong bearing on the country getting its first diamond mine.
Creamer: That is correct. You are an Arsenal supporter and I think you must phone your coach Arsène Wenger, because he has declared George Weah the new president of Liberia ahead of the formal election result. I don’t know who duped him, because George is in the lead, the famous soccer player that we used to see scoring goals for Chelsea and Manchest City.
He was trained by Arsène Wenger when he was at Monaco and Arsenal’s top man put out a duped message saying Liberia has got a President now and named George Weah.
Kamwendo: In fairness to Arsène Wenger, there were many reports doing the rounds about that particular outcome in Liberia.
Creamer: Because of this economic stability in Liberia they think that they will go ahead with the first diamond mine. They have been exploring there for some time and all they need to do, because they found three diamond baring pipes, one big main pipe and two satellite pipes. Some of the diamonds they have extracted already are pretty substantial.
They think that the Liberia area now can get its first diamond mine. We know that there have be artisanal miners that have been mining in this area, but they will now get a formal mine so they can pay tax to whoever is the new president and also attract foreign investment. All they have got to do is a bulk sampling and this could be going ahead with a first diamond mine in Liberia.
Kamwendo: South Africa’s R20-billion Swaziland rail link is being prepared for presentation to investors.
Creamer: That is right. They have been talking about the Swazi link for sometime, because you have got to take the burden off the coal line. The coal line earns us a lot of foreign exchange, but there is a lot of general freight going down there and something like 17-million tons a year. So, they want to build the Swazi link now to divert that tonnage away from the coal line and then start getting more coal down that line. We know that in the Waterberg now it is linking up with the coal line, they can also export.
They are thinking of Botswana as well, Botswana will export its coal down this line, which will be good for our logistics revenue and also our port revenue. The big thing is South Africans getting coal down there and produce more foreign exchange. They want to build the Swazi link and packaging the investment before year end they can start discussing this with investors who will have to put in R20-billion.
Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly.