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Mining an economic opportunity for Malawi

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David Doya, 79, from Kaufa Village in Senior Chief Makwangwala in Ntcheu vividly recalls his time as a mining worker when scores of Malawians used to flock to other countries for jobs.

Hundreds of Malawians migrated to countries such as South Africa and Zambia to work in gold and copper mines commonly known as ‘Theba’.

“This was the only alternative way as a source of income for us who had little education at that time,” said Doya who worked in the mines of Johannesburg for 15 years.

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For most mining workers such as Doya, success and achievement in working in mines was measured in building structures like a house with burnt bricks and iron sheets roofing in their rural communities.

The change in systems of government in most countries in Southern Africa brought a change in policies related to migration in other countries. This affected many people including Malawians who relied on working in mines of other countries.

This forced Doya to come back home and venture into farming which somehow proved to be a difficult venture for him to sustain his family.

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“I have been farming, but crops have not done well in most years due to erratic rains, drought and other challenges. Farm inputs are also expensive for poor villagers to afford.

“We need more alternatives for making a living for youngsters finishing education to find jobs,” said Doya adding that during his time this was not a problem since mines in South Africa and Zambia offered opportunities for Malawians.

This perspective by Doya of relying on the mining sector of other countries highlights the slow growth of the Malawian mining sector in being a competitive economic activity for job creation.

But that is no longer a case as the sector is geared towards a comprehensive development that is likely to boost the economic growth of the country.

The Malawi Government through the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining recently launched a countrywide Geological Mapping and Mineral Assessment Project (Gemmap).

According to the Principal Secretary in the ministry, Kester Kaphaizi, Gemmap is an initiative to acquire up-to-date geo-scientific data that shall be used to promote and maximize the mining sector’s contribution to the country’s socio-economic development.

The project has several components that include geological mapping of the whole country at various scales, mineral resource potential mapping and natural risk (geo-hazard) mapping.

“These components largely focus on generating data that will assist government to develop the mining sector through structural development plans and technical support to small scale mining,” Kaphaizi said.

Gemmap, which was launched under the theme ‘Geo scientific Data for Sustainable Mining and Economic Diversification in Malawi’, is expected to boost the mining sector which is regarded as one of the alternative for diversification from the agro-based economy heavily reliant on crops like tobacco, tea and cotton.

Kaphaizi said the implementation of the Gemmap is consistent with the Government of Malawi’s development blue print, the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MDGS II) and the 2013 Mines and Minerals Policy.

Government has further said the project was also in line with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) which world leaders adopted which aim to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice and tackle climate change by 2030.

The mining industry of Malawi produces a number of gemstones such as rubies, graphite, sapphire and other minerals such as uranium and coal. However, the value of mining is dominated by the extraction of fuel minerals particularly uranium.

Recently, the Gemological Institute of America announced that it wants to explore rubies and sapphire in the country.

The Globe and Metals Mining Company announced that it plans to drill for diamond in Lilongwe and is negotiating with the Malawi Government for a mine development agreement for the Kanyika Niobium Project in Mzimba and Sovereign Metals also announced Duwi Trend in Malawi as the world’s largest graphite deposits.

In relation to the global guidelines, boosting of the mining sector in Malawi is directly in line with SDG number 8 which calls for countries to create good work and economic growth.

In the recent years, the country has witnessed the beginning of medium to large scale mining. One example, being the Kayelekera Uranium Mine by Paladin (Africa) Limited, despite the fact that it has been put on care and maintenance due to the sustained low global uranium prices.

In March 2011, the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami resulted in the shutdown of 58 nuclear reactors in Japan and led to a drop in uranium prices which has not recovered.

It is expected that production will recommence once the uranium price provides a sufficient incentive of at least US$75/lb.

In June 2016, the Minister of Natural resources, Energy and Mining Bright Msaka launched the capacity building project which will run for two years on “Strengthening the capacity of African Governments to negotiate transparent, equitable and sustainable contracts in the extractive industries for broad based sustainable growth and socio-economic development” in Lilongwe.

The project will, among others, provide an opportunity to equip key stakeholders with the needed skills to enter into balanced, equitable and fair mining contracts with the investors.

Msaka expressed happiness with the capacity building project “it is my hope that the minerals of Malawi bring health, happiness and prosperity for all Malawians. This is a responsibility of the people who will negotiate with the potential investors. Malawi will be a rich or a poor country depending on what you do,” the minister told the capacity building project implementers.

“It is my conviction that if the mineral sector of the country was to develop to its full potential, it could surpass agriculture and all other sectors in its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and foreign exchange earnings,” said Msaka.

According to reports, the overall expenditure of Kayelekera was US$671.3 million and the mine generated 10 percent of Malawi’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Malawi has the potential to emulate Namibian mining industry where it has the potential to contribute positively to all the 17 SDG’s.

According to a member of the Sustainable Development Council of Namibia and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Namibian Institute for Mining and Technology, Dr Gabriele Schneider, mining comes to an end and cannot be sustained forever, therefore, mining companies need to invest in other businesses for economic growth.

“In America some mining companies invested in auto mobile business and the companies are still running. In China some mining companies invested in various products and they are still selling,” said Schneider.

The mining sector is likely to open up job opportunities for many Malawians as was the case during Doya and many other Malawians’ time.

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