Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Africa’s Fastest Growing Gold Producer Says More to Come

  • Government finds new deposits of lithium, nickel and uranium
  • Gold most valuable export, accounting for almost 80% of income

Burkina Faso said it has more gold waiting to be discovered as the nation where output jumped more than 20 times in a decade reviews its geological records.

The government wants to help companies that are already operating in the West African nation to lengthen the lives of their mines and make it easier for new investors to get information about deposits, Mining Minister Alfa Omar Dissa said last week in an interview in the capital, Ouagadougou.

“We’ve reviewed the eastern region, the west and the south and we found some very interesting information,” he said. Deposits previously unknown include “gold, lithium, nickel and a bit of uranium, even traces of oil,” he said.

The country has seen a gold rush in recent years because of the high grades found in some deposits, which hold as much as 17 grams (0.56 ounce) per metric ton, compared with the global average of 1.5 grams, Dissa said. Output in the landlocked nation is forecast to reach almost 49 tons of gold this year, from 2.3 tons in 2007, with Canadian companies Iamgold Corp. and Semafo Inc. among the biggest producers. Reaching the forecast will make it the continent’s biggest-producing country behind South Africa, Ghana and Mali.

Shovels, Hoes

The expansion of gold mining and the start of production at what may be one of the world’s largest manganese mines will push Burkina Faso’s economic growth to an average of 6 percent from 2017 to 2019, the International Monetary Fund said in a June report. The country’s economy measured $11.1 billion in 2015 and per-capita income was $613, according to the World Bank.

Gold, which has surged 24 percent this year, is now the most valuable export, accounting for almost 80 percent of income.

The country has geological rock formations similar to those in Mali and Ghana, which have well-established mining industries. Unlike its neighbors, industrial mining was non-existent until 2007 after the only gold mine closed in 1998 due to low prices and management problems, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. All mining was done with shovels and hoes by artisanal miners, who today number an estimated 400,000. They are mainly young men.

To read a story about Burkina Faso deploying troops to secure mines, click here

They’re often found encroaching on industrial sites, and dangerous practices such as using mercury to extract gold and digging unsafe tunnels are going to be curtailed, Dissa said. Dozens of people die every year as tunnels collapse even though the government prohibits small-scale mining during the rainy season from May to October.

Electricity Shortage

“We really need to organize the artisanal sector because the small-scale miners are intruding upon the big mines,” he said. “We are completing a survey to count them and we’re going to encourage them to work in cooperatives.” The government plans to start purchasing gold directly at artisanal sites and reduce some taxes to increase the miners’ income, he said.

The surge in gold mining has exacerbated an electricity shortage, causing regular power cuts in the two main cities, Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. The government is building seven solar power plants that will together yield 127 megawatts, Dissa said. It also wants to build a 100-megawatt thermal power plant but is still searching for investors.

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