EIA - Tips and best practice
An agricultural producer should evaluate his/her entire landholding from an agricultural and environmental perspective. From an agricultural perspective, it should be determined where the good and medium potential soil areas are, in order to maximize productivity and efficiency of the land. From an environmental perspective, watercourses, sensitive vegetation areas and environmental corridors within the property and surrounding properties (where possible) should also be identified. Once these two layers of information are available, a good picture of agricultural opportunities as opposed to environmental sensitivity can be obtained and used in future planning.
Before new land development takes place it is essential to get the Department of Agriculture on site. Most areas have regional offices and people available to assist. In practice, these officials will provide guidance with respect to agricultural requirements as well as environmental requirements in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA). The correct contact for environmental matters, however, is the Directorate Development Management at DEADP, who are available to provide guidance.
Regulation 8 of the 2014 NEMA EIA Regulations specifically provides for guidance to be provided to a proponent/an applicant. DEA&DP recommends that a proponent approach them as early as possible to obtain guidance on, amongst other things, whether or not the proposed development will trigger any listed activities, other approvals that might be required (e.g. WULA), the nature and extent of any processes to be followed, and decision support tools that must be taken into account during the EIA.
While it is advisable that a Pre-Application Screening and Guidance Meeting should be held once an EAP has been appointed, there might be instances where a proponent first wants to determine whether and/or which approvals might be required and obtain initial guidance prior to the appointment of the EAP. If such a preliminary meeting was held without an EAP being present, a follow-up meeting will have to be held once the EAP has been appointed.
If there are potential issues, for example clearance of indigenous vegetation or river crossings required, it is best to consult a specialist environmental consultant to provide guidance. There are many potential pitfalls when expanding agricultural activities and these are best avoided. Fines for contravention of NEMA requirements are significant but avoidable with good planning and proactive assessment.