Botha, J 2009, 'Mining for medicine — cultivation of medicinal plants as a component of a mine’s social responsibility programme in South Africa', in AB Fourie & M Tibbett (eds), Mine Closure 2009: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Mine Closure
, Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth, pp. 517-528, https://doi.org/10.36487/ACG_repo/908_40
The mining industry globally is under increasing pressure to reduce and remediate the high environmental
and social costs of their operations from the earliest planning phases. Simultaneously attaining economic,
environmental and social objectives requires concerted effort and resources. This paper assesses critical
factors that would influence the harvesting and cultivation of medicinal plants on lands owned by mines in
South Africa as one element of corporate social responsibility programmes, and highlights the complexities
of developing locally appropriate socio-economic projects. Migrant labour has contributed significantly to
the economy of South African mines and the country as a whole since the 1890s. To meet the high demand
for traditional medicine by this increasingly urbanised labour force, plants valued for their medicinal
properties were imported to towns and cities from rural areas, resulting in an extensive trade network
spanning the sub-continent which today has evolved into a multi-million rand industry. Subsistence
gatherers tend to harvest (“mine”) the plants illegally and unsustainably to maximise their returns as there
is little incentive to exercise restraint due to the high numbers of people often harvesting from the same sites.
This, combined with extensive loss of habitat through development activities, is resulting in the erosion of
numerous plant populations and threatening the survival of valued species. Cultivation of this important
resource base is not straightforward. Despite the high financial value of the overall trade, medicinal plant
products are usually sold at low prices to the subsistence sector. Although traders operating from shops
(“amakhemisi”) derive relatively lucrative returns, the majority of those trading in the informal sector
barely eke out a living, as do the gatherers supplying them. Many medicinal species have a low regeneration
rate, resulting in difficulties in attaining financial viability through conventional horticultural or agricultural
practices. Access to land for cultivation is also often limited. Many mines have unpolluted tracts of land on
which plants could be harvested or cultivated, which could contribute to the health of people and
biodiversity conservation, complementing other social responsibility and natural resource management
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