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Sustainable development is a process not a project

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Mining contributes significantly to export earnings and government revenues. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Sustainable development is a process not a project

To realise its immense potential and navigate the challenges of the 21st Century, Africa must adopt an integrated approach to development that embraces the synergies between mining, agriculture, and renewable energy.

By Charl van Rensburg of Remote Exploration Services

Three of the major forces still shaping the future of Africa are mining, agriculture, and renewable energy. While mining contributes significantly to export earnings and government revenues, agriculture remains the backbone of most African countries, both feeding and providing employment in these nations. In turn, renewable energy not only provides for the electrification needs of the people of Africa it can also contribute significantly to reducing the continent’s energy deficit.

Each of these is a powerful catalyst to real and meaningful development in their own right but, collectively, through the strategic integration of the mining, agriculture and renewable energy sectors, African countries can achieve far greater sustainable and inclusive growth, fostering resilience and prosperity for future generations.

Such a, more holistic, strategy holds the key to more effectively addressing pressing challenges such as poverty, food insecurity and energy shortfalls while promoting economic diversification, environmental stewardship and social progress across the continent.

Systems thinking for a bigger picture approach Sustainable development is a process not a project)

Achieving greater integration between these sectors will require that the industries not view their activities in an isolated project-by-project basis, but rather systemically as one (critical) element in an interconnected delicately balanced evolving system.

Typically, the project view requires one to think in a limiting way: limited resources, limited time and limited impact. By contrast, embracing a bigger picture systems-thinking approach necessitates thinking beyond just a single project or outcome.

This view understands that stakeholders are not homogenous, that cause-effect relationships exist and that seemingly inconsequential actions or activities, in the short-term, may have harmful results in the long-term, no matter how well-intentioned.

Pursuing single-track outcomes in parallel, but without an integrated approach, means that each of these major industries will inevitably compete with each other. If not directly, then indirectly.

Mining, agriculture and renewable energy all require significant amounts of resources, including water, land and investment capital. Viewing the allocation of these resources parochially, rather than holistically, is likely to result in a misalignment between local versus project objectives.

For example, a mining project may divert water away so it can be used for its operations, negatively affecting local agricultural productivity, which impacts both local employment and food security.

Similarly, if each sector only considers its own objectives and priorities, without considering the wider impact, not just locally but also on the objectives and priorities of other major industries, a competitive mindset develops.

Mining operations are primarily profit-driven while agriculture prioritises food security and renewable energy seeks to mitigate climate change.

Balancing these diverging interests and outcomes will require a delicate approach, but not balancing them leads to a winner takes all mentality, artificially skewing development objectives.

It is unfortunate that each of these industries has a history, and the potential, of posing significant environmental risk in the areas they operate in, with negative impacts that may include soil degradation, habitat destruction and water pollution.

Collectively their negative impacts can be devastating. If each industry continues to expand, independently, in developing countries across Africa, they place unreasonable burdens on already strained natural resources which leads to further environmental degradation and ultimately compromising sustainability goals.

Greater integration will produce better outcomes (Sustainable development is a process not a project)

The meaningful integration of mining, agriculture and renewable energy will require robust regulatory frameworks and transparent governance.

Greater integration between and amongst different government departments at national, regional and local levels within developing countries would go far to not just de-bureaucratise burdensome government policies and processes but also assist in prioritising outcomes based on an integrated understanding of local needs.

Clearly, this needs to be done within the confines of adequate regulatory oversight.

Unlocking the vast potential that the African continent holds will require a new and innovative approach and the implementation of an integrated strategy that fast-tracks development.

By leveraging its mineral resources, optimising agricultural practices and harnessing renewable energy sources, Africa can transform its economies, reduce poverty, ensure food security and mitigate climate change impacts.

This can however only be achieved when these different sectors and industries recognises that there is more that unites them than divides them, and that more can be gained by working together than by competing with each other.

Charl van Rensburg is the Brand Manager at Remote Exploration Services.

The opinions presented in this article are those of the author and not necessarily that of Remote Exploration Services.

Sustainable development is a process not a project

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Sustainable development is a process not a project



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AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management