The downturn in commodity prices has hit the mining industry globally but in Madagascar, it coincided with the end of a five-year period of turmoil, precipitated by a coup in 2009. Any hopes for the sector to propel itself back on the development track were dashed.
“Lots of mining companies came to Madagascar to explore [before 2009] but then we had the political crisis, with all the uncertainty and lack of visibility it brought, and even though we had elections in 2013, that uncertainty has not really lifted,” said Willy Ranjatoelina, executive secretary of the Madagascar Chamber of Mines.
In the mid-2000s, Madagascar had given the green light to two large-scale mining projects: Ambatovy, a $8bn (£6.4bn) nickel and cobalt project developed by a consortium led by Sherritt International, and QMM, a $1bn ilmenite project developed by Rio Tinto. Since then new projects have dried up.
While the downturn in fortune in large-scale mining is bad news for Madagascar’s revenue forecasts, it offers the authorities an opportunity to turn their attention to an alternative: artisanal and small-scale mining.
A hidden mining sector
Although artisanal mining has been practised in Madagascar for centuries, it’s been neglected as a formal activity – a “missed opportunity”, says Ranjatoelina, considering that around a million people work in the sector, second only to agriculture.
Formal recognition by the government, it is argued, could bring greater tax revenue and lead to improvements in health and safety and use of child labour in the sector.
Most artisanal mining focuses on gold and precious stones (Madagascar is famed for its sapphires, rubies and emeralds) and production isn’t insignificant – at its peak, Madagascar was thought to produce about 40% of the world’s sapphires and its annual gold production is reckoned to be about 15 tonnes, worth about $450m, but virtually all of it remains under the radar.
For the rest of this article, click here: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/nov/15/gold-rush-madagascars-artisanal-miners-could-benefit-from-global-downturn