Across the globe, mining is increasingly becoming one of the most important economic sectors. Some African countries have even succeeded in turning around the fortunes of their economy through mining. But, it is only recently that Malawi has realised that it has for decades been sitting on lucrative mineral deposits that could have transformed the economy for good.
For a long time, Malawi’s economy has been agro-based with the major cash crop tobacco facing a global crisis as the World Health Organisation continues to intensify the anti-smoking lobby.
However, in recent years the Malawi government turned its focus on mining as a replacement of tobacco as the country’s only major foreign exchange earner. The move was met with mixed reactions as not many Malawians understand what is involved in the mining process.
Mining department official Peter Chilumanga explains the stages involved in the mining process. He says mining has several stages and for the mining itself to commence, it takes more than 15 to 20 years.
“The first stage in mining is the exploration process. This is the stage where minerals are discovered, getting information of the subsurface, reconnaissance, satellite imagery airborne surveys, magnetic radiometric gravity, ground follow-up, mapping, geophysics trenching, and drilling among others,” said Chilumanga.
Mine development and design
Chilumanga said during this stage, feasibility studies, environmental and social assessments and development of sustainability and community programmes are outlined. Regulatory and government approvals are also done under this stage.
He further said the exploration company is mandated to look for project financing during this stage.
Construction of infrastructure and mine development, training, operations readiness, commissioning and start up feasibility study, also happen at this stage.
Mine design and production plan whereas process plant evaluation and definition—design criteria, flow diagrams, mass balance, Tailings management facility—sizing, sitting , Tradeoff studies—conceptual evaluation of production alternatives , Facility general arrangements , Equipment data sheets , Infrastructure—on-site and off-site, Water management—site drainage, conveyance, storage, Water supply—potable among others start taking shape here.
He went on to say that feasibility-level capital and operating cost estimates, project schedule, environmental permit review, closure plan development, High wall stability and monitoring are also presented during this stage.
Chilumanga explained that construction of mining support facilities including offices, accommodation, and workshops commences during this stage.
He said the explorer also goes into construction of laboratories, power supply, water supply and waste water treatment and disposal facilities in readiness for the mine development.
“Mine operations include activities such as geotechnical investigation, pit all design, mining block modeling and grade control, Construction of access roads, tree clearing and top soil removal, Pre‐stripping unsuitable material and preparation of first mining bench, Construction of processing plants, material handling facilities, stockpile areas, train loading facilities and waste disposal areas,” he said.
During this stage, Chilumanga said drilling, blasting, loading, hauling -shovels, draglines, transporting, ore processing and beneficiation take centre stage.
The operations also include railway, water, road operations, and materials handling and blending at the port stockyard, ship loading and marine operations.
This according to Chilumanga is the final mining stage and it includes mine closure or plan design of mine remedial measure systems.
He also said the stage involves rehabilitation, development of re-vegetation programs for mine waste, soil cover systems, and other disturbed areas.
Chilumanga said at this stage the government from time to time does field monitoring of the mine, Rehabilitation & closure systems, Plugging and complete closure of shafts, boreholes, tailings etc.
Benefits from mining
Chilumanga said mining benefits cannot be over emphasized as they include employment generation at all project stages (Including lateral, horizontal, vertical linkages), training & technology acquisition by locals.
He said governments also benefit from royalties, taxes & dividends from operations, infrastructure growth through project investments (Rail, power plants, roads, offices).
‘Other benefits include business services generation and development (Banking, legal, catering, transportation, explosives, security etc)
“Goods, services and industrial growth, improvement in GDP growth and standard of living. Assimilation of diverse mining and processing technologies by a country Containment of rural masses within local communities, Development on mining related supply chains,” he said.
The issue of CSR has been debated in the country for sometime as civil society groups have been advising communities where mining activities are taking place to demand CSR activities.
However, Chilumanga says no Law provides for implementation of CSR as CSR will still be voluntary.
He said development of rural infrastructure should be done through Community Development Agreement & voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility.
“Companies should not be dictated as to what to do. It is entirely up to them to do CSR as a way of improving or enhancing community-investor relationships through Community/Investor Engagement systems,” he said.
Community development agreements
On this area, Chiumanga said the CDAs helps to ensure that there is priotisation of procurement of goods and services locally; encourage companies to invest locally for the supply of goods and services; provide for adequate and best practice relocation and resettlement plans among others.
He said CDAs also help to provide for a percentage of gross revenues to CDA through transparent systems to enhance community projects.
In his conclusion, Chilumanga said mining is real and big business and must be treated as such.
“Mining has the capacity to turn around a country’s fortune and change income levels for example middle income stage as is the case in Zambia. Therefore attempts to diversify into mining should be nurtured with full efforts by all including the media.
“All Malawians must positively support mining with a view to contributing to change in the socio-economic development,” he said.
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