Virgin Soil MattersCasidra
South Africa has a number of different sets of legislations that are designed to protect the environment that different sectors of the economy must adhere to. Just like the other sectors, the agricultural sector is not exempted from these legislations. There are a number of legislations that govern the agricultural sector, but for the purpose of this article only the legislations that farmers must adhere to if they want to develop virgin soil for agricultural purposes are discussed. A virgin soil means land which in the opinion of the executive officer has at no time during the preceding 10 years been cultivated. There are two legislations that are designed to prevent the abuse or contamination of land, i.e. Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (CARA) and the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). These legislations prevent activities that would have only dubious short-term benefits and no long-term benefits at all for both agriculture and conservation.
The CARA stipulates, amongst other things, that: except on authority of a written permission by the executive officer, no land user shall cultivate any virgin soil: Provided that such authority shall not be required in respect of virgin land for which an approval has been granted in terms of Section 4(A) of the Forest Act, 1972 (Act 68 of 1972).
The National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is the administrator for CARA. If a need to cultivate virgin soil arise, an application for permission should be made on a form obtainable from a extension office for this purpose. Such application form shall be completed by the land user of the farm unit on which such virgin soil is situated and shall be lodged at the extension office for the area within which the farm unit concerned is situated, at least three months prior to the intended date of cultivation. An officer may, for the purposes of an investigation deemed necessary to consider such application, direct a land user to dig such soil profile pits as such officer may determine and to take such other steps as such officer may determine.
In the NEMA the listed activity that relates to cultivation of virgin land is “The physical alteration of virgin soil to agriculture, or afforestation for the purposes of commercial trees, timber or wood production of 100 hectares or more.
The NEMA states that before any listed development activities can be undertaken, an Environmental Impact Assessment must be done. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning is responsible for implementing this Act and they issue the environmental authorisations. The process of applying for authorisation takes up to 18 months. It is advisable to acquire the services of an Environmental Assessment Practitioner to facilitate the process.
Large fines and possible imprisonment for transgression for non-adherence to these legislations apply and is always an unwelcome surprise.